Day #67: Leslie & the LY’s – “Craft Tallk”
Phil and I successfully lobbied Jen B to join us for last Thursday night’s Leslie and the LYs show at Golden West Cafe up in Baltimore’s quirky Hampden neighborhood. The concert lineup around here has been surprisingly good this year, but I wonder whether any show we get to from here on out will be as good as that one. Leslie Hall and her fellow merrymakers are a tough act to follow, assuming you’re into this kind of thing, of course. The interchangeable Ames collective, which included Pennyhawk, and Ramona and the Swimsuits on Thursday night’s bill, are only your typical young indie bands in that they are a bunch of white kids that celebrate all things dorky and retro. But, they lack the cool kid swagger of most other bands. That combination of alcohol, cigarettes, ink, and angst (although the tour van was well stocked on sunglasses). These kids that took the stage at Golden West are straight up, unabashedly nerdy Midwest innocence who have created a show like no other we’ve seen. And, we loved every damn minute of it.
It was the first time in a long time that I’d been out till the wee hours of the morning on a weeknight. Golden West isn’t a bad place for a show (we had our doubts going in about how ticket-collecting would work), but the bands can’t start setting up till around 10pm when Golden West transforms from a cafe to a venue. Needless to say, these shows aren’t really scheduled with the working stiff in mind. But, except the three of us and a mom who had to accompany her kid, that didn’t seem to be much of a problem. (Jen B guessed that most of the audience were from the art college nearby). Still, even those guys started getting antsy as sound checks followed tuning and some chatter among the musicians. There was a curious curtain-covered frame on stage, with two life-size puppets propped up in front. Then the lights went dark, and we all held our breaths.
Derek Lambert, who did tech support for Pennyhawk’s opening set and played in the other two bands that night, shined a small spotlights on one puppet, then the other, as Leslie Hall’s campy, disembodied voice introduced the show, and someone behind the curtain animated their limbs. It was all programmed on an iPad. That’s pretty sophisticated stuff for a show on a tiny stage that we only paid $10 per ticket to see. And that’s the ultimate genius of this whole thing. That you’re not just attending another concert, but rather watching something like a lo-fi variety show.
I didn’t recognized Leslie Hall while she was on stage helping Kate Kennedy and Derek Lambert set up for the show that night until someone standing next to me had said something. It’s one of those moments when you’re squinting like crazy and going, is that really her? It can’t be! For the moment, she wasn’t Leslie Hall, flamboyant Keeper of the Gems, but rather Leslie Hall, the plain Jane from the Midwest who plays drums in Kennedy’s folk outfit, Pennyhawk. She was dressed in a sort of ordinary t-shirt (I suspect Midwest thrift shop tee) and jeans, and onstage, donned the same low key vintage country singer cotton dress and low-heeled back shoes as the rest of the girls in the band. She sat in the corner behind her kit and her long brown hair, rarely looking ahead at the audience. It wasn’t out of shyness or arrogance, but an attempt to both play with this band and not draw too much attention to herself. Because, while we were all distracted by Romana & the Swimsuit’s hilarious set, Leslie Hall would be backstage transforming into the Leslie Hall we all knew. I hate to spoil the secret, too. To pique someone’s curiosity about what Leslie Hall looks like without all the makeup, the bumpett, the mom glasses, and the gold spandex, because so much has gone into creating this personality that became an Internet Cewebrity. But, it’s precisely that care that I’m really amazed by.
As if the look and the songs about tight pants and emergency crafting aren’t hilarious enough (their 2010 album, Back 2 Back Palz, which includes today’s song, “Craft Talk”), the stage show is even more amazing. It’s roughly an hour-long choreographed set full of colorful homemade props and costumes. Phil noticed the lowly soul that had to spend the entire show manually rotating the giant lazy susan that the drummer and his kit sat on. Leslie mentioned that her dad made them. She once mentioned in an online interview that her mom made her trademark gold spandex outfit (and, hence the song, “Gold Pants”). There’s tiger heads built upon bike helmets that the LYs wear during Cat Dancer. Various clips play during each song (somewhat revealing their obscure repertoire of pop culture). This time, I actually took notice of the montage of zombie movies playing during “Zombie Killer.” And despite all the timing, it’s okay if it doesn’t all go well. When Mona (one of the LYs) handed a sad, broken glow stick to Leslie who was going to use them at her end-of-the-song dance, two girls in the audience offered their flashing, bracelets, and everyone got a laugh from it.
We’d seen Leslie Hall & the LYs about two years ago when they passed through DC9 while touring with Christopher and the Conquered (another band from Ames that they’ll be reuniting with for the last show of the tour). But, it took this lineup to really see how everything was put together. I’m way more impressed this time around.
(More on this tomorrow).