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The Lawsuits at SPA Noontime Series: Folk for Folks

Posted by Stephen Smith on 03/23 at 09:29 AM

The Lawsuits graced the first floor of the HUB for the SPA’s Noontime Concert Series last Friday.  Based out of Philadelphia, this indie folk band combined Dylan-esque lyrics and vocals with a strong rhythm section and female harmonies throughout their entire act.

It was a very sunny and unusually warm day for State College in mid-March, which probably explained the initial turnout.  There were perhaps ten people in attendance when they started their set. However, that number grew when they started playing, as it always does during these concerts.

The band achieved the folk look.  Frontman Brian Strouse had long stringy hair pulled into a pony tail that crawled down the back of his vest.  Vocalist Vanessa Winters performed the entire set without shoes. And Bassist Brendan Cunningham sported purple flannel and a black hat and wore his sunglasses (indoors, mind you).

Overall, they had a laid-back demeanor, but did not sacrifice energy or crowd appeal because of it.  Strouse was cool and likable, making the audience laugh by retelling how different Penn State was now than when his dad was a student back in the ‘70s—the girls didn’t wear bras then.  Also, a hat was passed around in the beginning of the show containing nine free CDs for the crowd to take as they pleased; the hat was empty when it got around to me.  The band made it a point to get the hat back, showing their humility, while also making the implied joke that the hat was more valuable than the CDs.

Throughout the show, everybody in the audience was bopping some body part or the other.  The rhythm section, comprised of drummer Josh Friedman and bassist Cunningham, was very tight for the show’s duration.  True to folk style, the beat and bass lines were simple without being overly simple. They also had subtlety within them that displayed their craftsmanship.  There were several timing transitions during some of the songs that were very tight and displayed experience and preparation.  Due to the acoustics of the HUB, the drums overpowered the other instruments a bit, which made it difficult to make out some of the vocals, but it wasn’t too bad that it impacted the quality of the show.

Much like the rhythm section, Strouse’s melodic duties consisted mainly of fills between simple chord structures and little riffs to fill out the bass line.  However, there were a couple moments during the set where he flexed his solo muscles and let it loose.  His solos were impressive, playing a flurry of notes between hard bends and vibratos.  They were flawless, too, as far as I could tell.

Vocally, Strouse has a very unique voice that distinguishes him from other artists.  It was very similar to Bob Dylan in its drawl, muted overtones, lazy adherence to the meter, and writing style.  His voice was complimented by Winters’, whose smoothly melodic voice contrasted well with Strouse’s subdued singing.  Cunningham sang several songs, but his voice was not nearly as strong as either Winters’ or Strouse’s.  He did a duet of sorts with Winters, but their voices did not mesh well together.

A few songs stuck with me. One was “Beautiful Anger,” which was the second song that they performed.  Lyrically, it was very well written and the chorus was catchy.  Winters’ lofty harmonics are best shown in this song, and the chord progression is relaxing, yet stimulating.  “Someone Else Blues” had a driving beat on the toms that emphasized the driving three-chord progression.  Solos separated the choruses and raised the energy level of the song.  Winters sang lead on “Shooting Star,” which put the strength of her vocals on full display.  She received a loud applause after the song, and it was a nice change of pace for the set.  Cunningham sang a cover of Carl Perkins’ “Bopping the Blues” for their last song.  The song fit his voice better, but it still did not measure up to the other singers’ performances.  Still, solos throughout the song kept the energy high and left the audience with a powerful outro.

The Lawsuits embody the true spirit of folk with excellent lyrics and musical subtlety through a down-to-earth demeanor.  It was hard not to enjoy some aspect of their show, whether you love folk or are indifferent.  If you are a lover of folk, this is definitely a band to check out.  If you’re just someone who likes to listen to new music, they’re worth a listen, too.

The Lawsuits have a new album, “Darleen,” due to be released soon in mid-April.

{name} Author: Stephen Smith
Bio: Stephen Smith is currently a senior English major at Penn State. In his free time, he enjoys playing Xbox, drumming, playing his guitar, and writing fiction. His favorite genres include alternative rock, emo, indie, metal, and most anything played acoustically. His favorite bands include Say Anything, Counting Crows, City and Colour, and Daphne Loves Derby.

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