Coming Back To Life – the “Smoke Em If You Got Em” Journey (March – April 2017)

Concert Impressions | Jun 13, 2017

It’s good to wait a bit before you write down your memories of something really intense and beautiful that’s happened. Things you’ve witnessed are permitted to sink in over time. All that’s been absorbed gets the chance to be expressed properly. Today, two months after the tour, the time seems quite right.

© LP Pleasures Project

When you are an adult (for a longer while) and you’re already done with your teenage-twenties rock’n’roll days, and your favorite entertainment becomes to hang out at home, it takes something really big, closer to an atomic bomb, to make you get up, pack your suitcase, and wander around Europe in the airport-hotel-club-bar-hotel-airport-club-bar mode for a month.  Especially when you have a shitload of adult responsibilities, and when you can’t afford it time-wise and probably emotionally, either. So first you think it through, but a couple of months later you find yourself in some remote place in the middle of the Italian countryside. And, just two days later, amidst the Swiss Alps. Then in the center of Paris. Airport-hotel-club-bar-hotel-airport… Repeating to yourself that you’re probably just trippin’… For the fourth week in a row.

Both of us, we have always been really into different kinds of art. Discovering new artists, and following the new work of those who are already known to us. So it’s really nothing surprising or unexpected to come across, yet again, someone exceptionally talented. And when it comes to musicians, we both have the same pattern. First comes the music. Then the person behind it. And then the live performance. How often do each of those three aspects come together in such an astonishing way? Well, in the current decade, only once. A good enough reason to put your real life on hold and follow this life-changing phenomenon for a month or so. And so we did.

Our first Smoke Em tour experience was the tour-opening show in Stockholm. Looking back at it now, we still feel how special it was. A really small place and quite a relaxed audience. Most of the crowd were people who just wanted to check out who’s playing that night. They entered this peculiar temple unaware, and they submissively converted into something new. The “fan in the making” process. Very interesting. It takes two songs to do it. “Muddy Waters” puts a spell on you right away, and while you’re still enchanted, “Strange” does something endearingly sraighforward – blows your mind. That’s it. When you experience it for the first time and you don’t expect it, it’s close to a temporary lobotomy. No wonder things change after that.

From Sweden we jumped to Italy. The first Italian concert, in Nonantola, was like a real good house party. Relaxed and cozy vibes continued throughout the whole show – it felt like all 1,500 of us sat in some nice salon, sipping drinks and having a good time together. But still, in the middle of all that, LP’s performance remained impeccable with one very special, very Italian moment that simply blew us away. Towards the end of “Forever For Now” she sang her last aria so heavenly that people started applauding, just as if it was in an opera house. No cheering, no screaming, just an applause of pure admiration. She must have noticed, because she whispered a gracious “thank you” before she moved on to the final part of the song. This was the most amazing and memorable moment of the show, and just a few minutes earlier we had heard an excellent performance of “Tokyo Sunrise.” She killed every-single-note, outdoing the album version, which seems impossible. At one point, she was handed a big banner from the audience saying “Can I sing with you?” “Aren’t you singing with me right now?” – LP fired back with half-smile. Well, here we can only quote LP’s drummer’s, Elias, when he first saw LP being interviewed: “My boss is so dope at answering questions.”

We skipped the second Italian show and went to see the final one, in Milan. We found ourselves a nice place at the back of the standing area, just behind the console. If we were to recommend any place to pick for an LP gig, it would be this – the sound is the best, you have a full view of the stage and you are not pushed and joggled by the crowd. We already wrote that each gig was growing more and more powerful during this tour, and in Milan we got hit by this power right at the beginning. “Strange” and “Other People” were extremely emotional – LP took care of each line, emphasizing beautifully the meaning of the lyrics. But the way she performed “Up Against Me” that night… She was comfortable and confident, the performance was ultimately thrilling, with an absolutely killer flow and groove. Together with “Levitator,” these were two songs that raised the roof of the Alcatraz club. But when it all seemed too good to be true, the real surprise was still ahead of us, and it came in the form of “Night Like This,” performed only once on this tour, only in Milan. We were lucky to catch this moment for the second time around, as she also performed it only one single time during her Lost In Europe tour, in Poznań.

The view of the stage that we had in Milan was a great opportunity to fully see how much talent is present on stage in LP’s band. Her musicians are like three different components, joined together to create beautiful, musical fusion. JD’s guitar – sensitive, heartbreaking and romantic; Brian’s bass – confident, cool and perfect; Eli’s drums – belligerent and wild. And LP, stirring it all up, adding an elusive, magical, noble element, turning it all into art.

And then there was Switzerland. First, Zermatt. When LP’s presence at the Zermatt Unplugged festival was announced, it is safe to say that people went crazy. Just imagine: a little Swiss village in the middle of the Alps, at the foot of the Matterhorn, closed for traffic. Add LP’s unplugged set on top of that and you are in paradise. And now a reality check. All was great, and LP was pure perfection, but when it comes to the organization… Whatever your fantasies of intimate, refined, unplugged concerts – imagine the opposite. Somehow, this time we landed in the front row, and we were so lucky it happened. It was not what we planned, but, well, it must have been some guardian angel taking care of us, and indeed, it is a bit closer to heaven in Zermatt. In the back of the venue there was a large bar, where people were chatting loudly throughout the whole show. Which is perfectly fine during a standard club event. But when the concert is supposed to be unplugged, well… As for the audience, it was the loudest crowd ever, whistling and screaming over the top of the vocals at all times. All of it was quite, so to say, unexpected, but honestly, once LP entered the stage, it all instantly moved to the background. She was right at our fingertips. And, yes, the front row was a blessing, and for a surprising reason. Thanks to Zermatt’s lousy sound system, a couple of times we had the chance to hear her true, unprocessed voice. She was singing with such power that her real sound would reach the front row sooner than the speaker sound. For real. Funny thing, it has always been our dream to hear that, but we never expected to really catch a glimpse of it. In such a set-up, experiencing the show-off parts of “Tokyo Sunrise,” “Levitator,” “Dead Town” (yes, she sang it in Zermatt!), and “Lost On You” was mystical. By the day of the show in Zermatt the tracklist of the deluxe edition of the Lost On You album was announced, and we already knew that “Dead Town” and also “Old Days” would not be issued, so we appreciated hearing those songs even more. Watching “Dead Town” live is, well, one of the most pleasant things to do in this world, so we went ahead and observed intensely every single detail of this performance, second after second. Letting her show us around this lifeless city of hers with every line and every sound.

After this show, sitting on a terrace with an unbelievable view of the Alps, we decided that it must have been it, the peak, and that what was still ahead would not be able to equal Zermatt. “Funny you say that,” said our fates as they took us to Geneva. Well, on the subject of Geneva we could write a book, so we need to try to make it as short as possible, instead. It was our favorite day of the… tour? Year? Life?… No idea. And for many, many different reasons. But to keep it short. That concert was like Sayers’ slogan: “refined, yet raw.” Like the best dark Swiss chocolate. The perfect live performance at a place where likely no one expected anything like it. When LP entered the stage the audience went mad and the vibe of the show was truly boiling, from the very beginning to the very end. The energy generated by the audience hit the stage and the band took it, absorbed it, and was really on fire. LP was unbelievable. Imagine any exquisite performance by her, and then double it. We felt as though it was the first time we saw her, and frankly, we couldn’t stop staring. And when she arrived at her new song, “Suspicion,” this was when the unexpected happened. We thought that the first performance of a song should be somehow hesitant or tentative, but not this time. Oh, it wasn’t any of that, it was the opposite. How so? No idea. We wrote somewhere that “Suspicion” makes us feel as though she waited her whole life to write it. It first occurred to us in Geneva. WHAT A SHOW!

As the events of the Geneva gig shook us to the core (geez, we hear all the time how LP saved somebody’s life, while ours, she somehow manages to put at risk all the time…), we spent this night wandering through the city, to finally land in a place called the Blue Bar on the other side of the French border at dawn. It was a bar we would never, ever visit in any other circumstances, but there was no other choice and going to the hotel wasn’t an option either. And one interesting thing happened there. At this god forsaken, dirty place, we found the sweetest local people. Very dangerous at first glance (no, it didn’t stop us), but after a while it turned out they decided we were Russians, and so they played us some Russian music and filled up our glasses with vodka on the house. This is how, sometimes, stereotypes can save the party.

Our next stop was Paris. Another special show, partly seated for the audience, in a venue that French people take very seriously, Salle Pleyel. Here they invite all the new artists who are supposed to prove their worth. Parisians present at the venue weren’t disappointed that night. The expectations were high, so, naturally, LP had to outdo the wildest French dreams. All it took for her to be a winner was just to enter the stage, really. And that was quite a stride. When she reached the beam of light, with her shining black jacket, we were not sure if we haven’t just travelled back in time to 1983 to Pasadena, to witness the legendary Motown 25 show. She took the stage effortlessly, engaging everyone right from the start with her powerful confidence and perfect vocals in “Muddy Waters.” She kept the whole performance in check, making it perfect, leveled, smooth. As if it was customized for this serious and demanding audience. Even “You Want It All” was touched by it. The irresistible power and beauty of this song is inseparably connected with its raw, heartbreaking live version. And the Paris live version was perfect instead, and it kind of messed with our minds that it was even possible to sing it like that – tearing down any vocal limits. On top of that, we were lucky, once again, to be present at another song premiere, “When We’re High” this time. Its killer bass line and LP’s unbelievable vocals caught us completely unprepared. Those passages from her soprano highs (wondering if “When We’re High” features her highest notes possible…) back to dark, very gritty, and very wicked lows essentially bring you to your knees. And to that, at the very end of the show, she added a slightly altered whistling part to “Forever For Now,” generating a loud “wow!” and “was that real?!” (yes, in English) to ripple through the room. Paris has been conquered.

Ten days later, to conclude this story and to send this tour off properly, we went to London. London was a completely different show compared to all that happened during Smoke Em If You Got Em. Something was triggered, something intangible, some new energy that continued through LP’s British and American TV show promos and the American Spring tour.

Parallel to the tour and our following LP’s band, there was, obviously, also this other journey, our journey. Which is completely another story, but one would never have happened without the other. Not going into details, it was pretty much a reminder of what life is all about. We returned home to assess what can be saved from the battlefield that we left behind, but we couldn’t be happier. Why did we do it? We did it because we wanted it. Simple as that. And who’s responsible for bringing two cynical, little souls back to life on so many levels? Yeah.