Laura Stevenson at the Rock and Roll Hotel

Indie rock songwriter Laura Stevenson performs at the Rock and Roll Hotel in DC. Photo: Laura Stevenson

WASHINGTON, May 14, 2013 —Laura Stevenson fits into the rising number of female musicians who perform in the indie/folk rock circuit. When she started performing her own original material, it was under the band name “Laura Stevenson and the Cans.”  In the last few years or so, she and the band have dropped “the Cans” portion of the name, instead performing just under Stevenson’s name. Still, her set at the Rock and Roll Hotel showed that while the name was slightly changed, nothing about her or the band has changed much at all. There are only minor, superficial differences from the original.

What this evolution does, however, is streamline the band and Stevenson’s. They are very much a cohesive band that regularly performs and records together. They have essentially been together since Stevenson decided to strike out on her own – previously being a member of Bomb the Music Industry! It’s risky to say that they simply perform in support of Stevenson, because there’s a good bit of autonomy among the band. On the other hand, it’s not necessarily accurate to say Stevenson is the primary focal point of the band or even its driving force.

The ideals and principles that drive most women who play a certain brand of indie and folk rock differ – not widely necessarily, but definitely noticeably – from those of their male counterparts.  Lately, the talent pool for female folk rockers has become deep enough where a genuinely creative mindset that diverges from the norm can emerge. One example of this is Laura Stevenson.

The principle point for a musician like Stevenson and her band is for the musicians to essentially serve as an extension of Stevenson’s songwriter persona. The music they play is the music she wants to put out there to be absorbed by the audience. This is clearly her vision.

The results are quick tempo indie pop songs with a strong helping of folk sensibilities. The songs themselves are light pop melodies that have a tightness in general structure but an overall looseness in sound. The songs never drag, which enhances the inherent catchiness of each tune, allowing the audience to hold on to the songs without losing interest in them.

The songs are generally focused around the quality of Laura Stevenson’s voice, which has an oddly unique touch about it though the difference is hard to articulate. When she sings, a certain quiver seems to emanate from the back of her throat, somehow—and quite unexpectedly—adding considerable strength to her output.

The effect this has on the other aspects of her sound is what drives the band’s overall looseness of approach. Her vocals add a sense of quirkiness to what’s a somewhat polished, light and airy indie pop performance. That’s further bolstered by the band’s liberal use of an accordion and trumpet, which tend to have the exact same effect as Stevenson’s vocals.

All of this gave Laura Stevenson’s recent show at the Rock and Roll Hotel an off-kilter air. At times it felt like it might be at odds with indie pop nature of the songs she writes. But in the end it gives her and the band an additional level of authenticity, providing the material she played in her set a stronger appeal.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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