A Show I Went To: Lucius

It’s next to impossible to tell the two lead singers of Lucius apart. And that’s clearly their intent.

I don’t mean physically. In that respect, they are opposites: Holly Laessig the tall, long-necked ectomorph to Jess Wolfe’s compact curves. Both possess the same enigmatic beauty and the uncanny ability to sing in perfect tandem, be it in intricately-matched harmonies or unison so exact it sounds like one voice. The effect is exaggerated by their choice to perform in identical outfits. This curious twinning brings to mind the matching gingham dresses of ‘50s country singers The Davis Sisters (and their modern counterparts the Sweetback Sisters), but the singers of Lucius seem to be riffing less on country music’s gutsy leading ladies than on rock music’s egotistical frontmen. Their apparent oneness obscures not only their individual identities but also their combined one; watching them on stage, it’s hard to imagine them as anything but a single unit, their daily life a tantalizing mystery.

At Brighton Music Hall on Friday, April 20, where Lucius opened for J.D. McPherson, Wolfe and Laessig wore billowy, sleeveless tops and their hair in the same complicated updo with a big floppy brown bow. They were backed by four black-clad, bow-tied men–two guitarists, a drummer, and a saxophonist. I’d never seen (or heard) Lucius before and at first I wondered if their schtick of dressing alike was really necessary. But the visual trick nicely underscored the band’s total commitment to their musical concept.

Facing each other across keyboards arranged in an outward V, Wolfe and Laessig didn’t so much trade lead as share it at all times, a single voice splitting and merging back into itself over perky pop-tinged hooks. At any given moment, a player might drop his instrument in order to thwack at a woodblock or brandish a tambourine, and everybody sang. This communal, ad hoc attitude infused the performance with a giddy deliriousness, as though the members of Lucius were still wonderstruck at all the different ways they could make noise.

At the show I picked up a copy of Lucius’s self-titled EP, which is a neat distillation of the band’s capabilities. The doubled vocals are equally suited to sultry two-part harmonies and anthemic sing-along choruses, both of which receive their due. “Don’t Just Sit There” excels at the slow, heady build, while “Turn It Around” has both lead singers straining to be heard over clamorous percussion and a muscly sax riff. The four members of Lucius–Wolfe and Laessig, plus Dan Molad and Peter Lalish–share songwriting credit and display an aptitude for cathartic one-liners set to syncopated beats. Their most evocative writing occurs on “Go Home,” a spacious, seductive track in which Wolfe and Laessig sing plaintively, “I’m your dolly/ Stuffed with extra baggage/ Lay me down to close my eyes/ Beaded gazes lead you nowhere anyways.” They can only slather on the poetry so long, though, before falling into more comfortable habits: “Press on my heart, I will say/ I don’t need you anyway/ I don’t need you, go home.” This habitual directness is all the more affecting for being shouted at the top of two sets of lungs.

Aesthetically, Lucius is in line with the kind of lush, pop-savvy rock that dominates the indie scene nowadays. What’s so impressive, aside from the obvious novelty of the band’s two lead vocalists, is the completeness of their vision. Lucius is a small offering, but every moment is executed with exquisite detail, and in the end it is as much a testament to smart production and sophisticated arrangements as it is good songwriting. Wolfe and Laessig know exactly what they want to say, and the power of saying it together.

***

For the set at Brighton Music Hall, Lucius played on borrowed equipment because their van, along with most of their gear and merchandise, had recently been stolen. (I later learned that the saxophonist was there in place of some samples that had been lost–when you can’t get a machine, a man will do in a pinch.) They just launched a PledgeMusic campaign that will raise money to replace the equipment, so throw a few bucks their way, if you can.

Listen to “Don’t Just Sit There” on NPR’s All Songs Considered.

 

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