By Michael Ybarra
While cars honked and pedestrians chattered outside the Paramount Theatre in Austin, TX, a line had formed around the building and down the block before its glass double doors opened at 7 p.m. Upon entering, every ounce of noise, all chaos, disappeared. My balcony seat squished my legs slightly; the stage fell further back than I expected, but I knew, from the centerstage cloth-covered piano, that this night held spectacular things in store.
The concert began with a surprise. Adam Melchor, solo, came on stage, and I immediately recognized him. I had seen him during the tour for his debut album, Melchor Lullaby Hotline Vol. 1. That tour featured Melchor with a full band to catch him if he made a mistake but seeing him all alone on stage made me nervous for him. I had nothing to fear. Melchor is a natural performer with the gift of being comfortable on the mic. He sang mostly older songs from his discography, but he also performed “Serotonin” and “Peach” from his most recent EP, Fruitland, both with fantastic, clever lyricism.
Charismatic, funny and with a falsetto like an ocarina, Melchor’s music degree in guitar performance shined along with his angelic vocals.
After a brief intermission, orchestral strings rang throughout the theatre. People squealed left and right as they waited for the grandiose red curtain to part and reveal our main character for the night. As the strings faded, Laufey began with the first track of her debut album, “Fragile.” There has never been a more perfect opening song, for “Fragile” holds a special place in my heart. Laufey’s signature sound, borrowing from bossa nova, fit the space just right. Thus began our fantastical journey through jazz and pop.
The Icelandic artist came dressed to the nines in a simple, short black dress which perfectly contrasted with the red electric guitar she plucked for the opening number. Soon, the stage would reveal each of its elements. Huge heat lamps and soft spotlights lit the stage tenderly, creating an air of intimacy, aided by the mere five players creating lush soundscapes.
Once the opening ended, Laufey revealed surprise number two of the night. She has been nominated for a Grammy. Her humble and sweet personality shone through as she asked the audience to forgive her if she suddenly burst into tears at some point during the night.
Being at such a special show elevated her performance in my mind.
But the really special moments came when she sang alone. She suck all the air out of the room when she tickled the ivories of the grand piano during “Promise” and “California and Me.” A square strip of light surrounded the elevated piano as if the stage was alive and breathing. It felt like the audience was intruding on a private moment. Even so, each start to a song elicited a gasp and various comments from the entire audience, an experience I have never seen. Usually, people cheer, but the etiquette at a Laufey concert is completely unique. Onlookers were dead silent when she spoke in between songs, totally attentive.
Laufey’s B sides hit just as hard in concert. “Haunted,” one of my favorite tracks from her sophomore album Bewitched, showed her mysterious, sultry side. Green and purple lights bathed the stage, no doubt an homage to the recent passing of Halloween, and the audience’s good behavior was soon rewarded.
During “Best Friend,” the finale of her EP Typical of Me, Laufey waved to the various sections of the theater revealing her cutesy, amicable personality before her full band joined her for “Lovesick,” the pop ballad of her sophomore album. Star-like lights twinkled behind the heat lamps, adding another dimension to the concert as if Laufey were defying gravity and floating through space.
Closing with “From the Start” proved to be a smart choice. Although the Austin audience seemed timid, you could hear them quietly singing along when all the instruments cut out during previous numbers, but now they sang with full force, unafraid to give Laufey her flowers for such a wonderful, admittedly Grammy-worthy performance.
In the blink of an eye, she had left the stage. Yearning for more, the audience began chanting for an encore, and Laufey obliged. She sang her new Christmas song written with the famous Nora Jones, also released that day.
Laufey left us with a tearjerker. Arguably the most tender and sentimental song from Bewitched, Laufey pulled out “Letter To My 13 Year Old Self,” a powerful song now taking on a whole new meaning. It was like she was unstitching herself to let the audience see her deepest thoughts. With the knowledge of her recent Grammy nomination, she brought tears to the audience’s eyes, and you could hear the emotion welling up inside of her, only adding to her luscious alto voice.
At the end of the encore, Laufey told the audience to dream big. She had no idea writing songs in her bedroom would lead to a sold-out tour and her first Grammy nomination. She told the audience the future holds wonderful things, and she could not wait to come back to the Lone Star State.
Laufey stands out as a dedicated lover of jazz and bossa nova. She is funny, witty, precious, mischievous and humble, and her live set showcases all these characteristics gorgeously. Whether or not she wins the Grammy is inconsequential. She has captured the hearts of her adoring fans, exposing them to a genre hidden in plain sight.
Based on her performance, I know one thing for sure. Laufey is a star.
Written by: Preethi Mangadu