Midwestern – via a Los Angelean detour – folk artist (if I have to pick a genre) Elisabeth Maurus – aka Lissie – has been on the circuit for a while. Enough to have put out five studio albums since 2010, the latest of which – Carving Canyons – her current tour is in support of. While Folk and Americana stars don’t tend to chart massively, Lissie’s charm oozes through each of her five records and is taken to the next level when she hits the stage, as she does at tonight’s final show of her U.K. run at North London’s Koko venue.
Her set kicks off with Carving Canyons opener Unravel, the slow-build song describing Lissie’s own unravelling, the Koko crowd in a gentle sway, enamoured with her powerfully magical voice before the pace increases with 2013 single Sleepwalking from third record Back To Forever, the frontwoman and bandleader of six encouraging her audience to clap along.
“It really just blows my mind that after all these years I can still come over here and you guys come and see me, so thank you” the 40-year-old shares before going on to describe the personal nature of her songwriting.
Describing her latest L.P. she shares “It was really helpful for me to make, I write songs about what I’m going through, and my growth and my emotions and so it’s really special to get to share it with you” she continues before diving into new album cut Flowers, guitars and accordion melding gorgeously atop the earnest folk tune, support act Hannah Ashcroft adding delicious harmony vocals.
Rousing 2017 L.P. Castles single Best Days is kicked off with a solid driving beat from drummer Nick Vaal, the live rendition removing it’s recorded counterpart’s polished sheen and introducing a raw energy that lifts it to a new level before another deep cut is shared via 2016 single Don’t You Give Up On Me, the Camden crowd swaying along gently and guitarist Sam Quinn turning this into a true rock ‘n’ roll show while Lissie mashes it up with few lyrics from Kate Bush classic Running Up That Hill.
Another earnest break between songs has the Iowa resident describing her history with coming to London but also how she moved away from her home town of Rock Island, Illinois only to move back to the region years later, attributing the decision both to homesickness and the draw of the mighty Mississippi river, to which debut record Catching A Tiger’s piano-accented Oh Mississippi is an ode to.
Describing writing and recording Carving Canyons in chunks, Maurus goes on to describe the challenges of living alone on a farm during the COVID-19 pandemic and going through a break-up. “When I write, I want to feel my feelings” she explains. “I wrote this next song about wanting the person that wronged me to suffer” she laughs, introducing Sad, the Aimee Mann-esque tune shimmering as she sings “when you hear this song, I want you to be sad”.
2015 single Hero exudes Noir Americana before 2013’s Further Away (Romance Police) takes a turn down a Fleetwood Mac-inspired road with sparkling guitars atop a disco rhythm and Stevie Nicks vocals. New record tune Chasing The Sun evokes Lionel Richie hit All Night Long next, reflecting the range of emotions Lissie clearly went through over the year spent writing and recording the record.
After dismissing the possibility of smoking weed during her trip to Amsterdam later this week – “I’m not that cool” – she declares, Lissie introduces her latest L.P.s title track. “This is a song that I hope speaks for itself. The idea that the landscape of our lives, someday we look back with this birds-eye view. Sometimes the hard stuff is part of the point, it’s kinda what curves the canyons”, the acoustic guitar-driven folk tune washing gently over the Koko crowd.
“I’ve been coming here for a while and you keep coming back and I love it” Lissie gushes as she introduces Catching A Tiger tune When I’m Alone as the song that “started it for me”, requesting her audience sing along, if they know it. Which of course they do, the driving 2010 single getting the biggest cheer of the night.
In Sleep continues this dive back to the start, the six musicians on stage closing the tune out in rousing fashion with storming bass and delicate keyboards leading to shredded guitars and huge drums as Lissie paces about the North London stage.
“One of my favourite things about the U.K. is Sunday Roasts” the bandleader shares during a brief technical hitch-driven chat, sharing how the group of musicians shared an Airbnb outside Cambridge with drummer Nick Vaal and lead guitarist Sam Quinn (also of English folk-rock outfit The Travelling Band with guitarist Jo Dudderidge) being particularly good cooks.
Carving Canyons cut Night Moves closes out the main set but it’s not long before the group return, closing the night out with a debut record one-two punch, ballad Everywhere I Go followed by rousing Little Lovin’, the songstress going full rock star with a venture into the crowd for the latter, getting up close and personal with her fans.
While Lissie may not be a household name, she’s clearly at the top of her game and leading the charge of folk-tinged Americana that borrows from Country, Roots and Noir as well as Blues, Rock and Pop with a clear 1970s influence, to which tonight’s packed out 1,400-capacity Koko is a testament. Lissie plays Amsterdam’s Melkweg on Friday 3rd March before playing a run of North American shows through March and April.
Live review and photography of Lissie @ Koko by Kalpesh Patel on 28th February 2023.