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Review: Laura Stevenson treats audience as friends, brings quirks to Rumba stage

Shelby Lum / Lantern photographer

As Joe Fletcher took the stage between the red walls at the Rumba Café, he shed his coat and glasses to begin plucking out his first song. The dim lights softly illuminated the stage, and the early-comers to the show dispersed themselves between the tables and open bar stools.
Fletcher opened the show on Wednesday, and was then followed by Columbus locals Saintseneca before headliners Laura Stevenson and the Cans took the stage at Rumba Café.
While Fletcher usually plays with his band The Wrong Reasons, his Columbus performance was a solo acoustic show. When playing with his band, his style is very grassroots-Americana, but alone he sounded much more serious than the lighthearted quality the full band gives him. His vocals, as deep as they were, did not quite hit the register of Johnny Cash, but were similar in their somber tone.
After playing his song “Ambulances,” he thanked the crowd for coming out to the show early, and informed us that he was stopping in Columbus on his way back from festival South by Southwest.
Fletcher played acoustic versions of “Every Heartbroken Man,” “Womanizer Blues” and a cover of Tom Waits’ “Bottom of the World.” His stage demeanor was easygoing enough where he didn’t seem uncomfortable but just the right amount of cool.
Maybe it was the earlier opening time, or the crowd just wasn’t into it, but Fletcher struggled to really grab the audience. He tried a sing-along song, asking the audience to sing the chorus with him, to little avail.
“You guys are serious,” Fletcher said, his slight frustration apparent.
Still, he carried on through his set playing “Drunk and Single” and finishing with “A Better Place.”
Following Fletcher was Saintseneca, a local Columbus band, and by the looks of the crowd, had quite a few friends and supporters who had come to the show.
The interesting thing about Saintseneca was the setup, which was unlike any I had seen before. Two players stood on top of a stomp box, the band played several instruments that I will not even attempt to know the names of and, interestingly, the members all swapped instruments between nearly every song.
Hand them an instrument, and they could probably play it.
Essentially, Saintseneca was folky, almost too folky at times, but for the mass majority of its set, the band was an interesting mix of indie folk and indie pop. I for one was thankful I had found a folk band that didn’t pull a Mumford & Sons and do nothing but play way too much banjo.
Finally, Laura Stevenson and the Cans took the stage. Oddly, the crowd looked smaller than earlier – probably because Saintseneca’s local fans left after its performance.
Stevenson’s stage presence was something you most likely either loved or hated.
I loved it.
Unlike Fletcher, who was cool and collected, using his deep, raspy voice to add to his nonchalant banter, Stevenson was light, airy and so informal she might have been playing for a few friends.
While a lot of her stage talk was a complete ramble of words, I enjoyed it. Rumba Café is small, and her semi-awkward dialogue simply emphasized the intimate setting.
Before playing “8:08” she issued a disclaimer on the sad song the band was readying to play.
“This song’s a downer,” Stevenson said. That is how she described most of her songs: sad.
An amp fell, curses were thrown, but Stevenson lightly joked her way through it, talking about the joys of live performances. The audience even became privy to information about her apparently sweaty armpits.
She even messed up an intro to a song by playing it in the wrong key, only to stop, explain the mistake with a laugh and restart.
“I killed the mood,” Stevenson said as she began again.
An acoustic portion of the set began with “Renee,” after which The Cans left the stage to allow Stevenson some solo time – which may have made her banter even more wonderfully awkward.
“Barnacles” was followed by one more song in the acoustic section of the set.
A scream lept out from the crowd by a single fan. A cry was made for her to come to Columbus more often. One person even yelled that the music had changed her life.
The Cans returned to the stage to finish out the set. The band played “L-DOPA,” which was released as a single on the upcoming album “Wheel” about two weeks ago.
“Master of Art” started out with a nice drum beat, and rounded out the night well.
While some may have disliked her eccentric stage presence, Stevenson just treated her performance as if she were among friends, quirks and all. She wasn’t some robotic musician with scripted transitions between songs. We saw the flaws and the mess-ups, and because of that the crowd felt more at ease to participate in the concert.
One girl towards the front even yelled out how much she liked Stevenson’s boots.  

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