Lacy Landre

Hugh Laurie & The Copper Bottom Band

Backed by the talented Copper Bottom Band, Hugh Laurie (aka Dr. House) proved he's both an engaging showman and a talented musician at the Pabst Theater.

By - Aug 21st, 2012 12:23 pm

Photo: Erik Ljung

I’ll be honest: I hadn’t a clue what to expect from a musical performance by Hugh Laurie. I was more curious as to how Dr. House would behave on stage and whether or not he had any musical talent. It could have very easily gone the way of Dogstar or David Hasselhoff.

A YouTube search beforehand didn’t get my hopes up. I actually had a few close friends flat out refuse to attend the show with me for free. I figured I am either a terrible date, or his music is actually just that offensive. Thankfully, I was proved wrong on both accounts. His live presence trumps any recorded material I could find.

Photo: Erik Ljung

The show was nearly sold out, which was a blessing because I discovered a part of the Pabst Theater I had never been to – the very top row aligned with the giant chandelier on the ceiling. The people in front of us were sharing binoculars. The bird’s eye vantage was actually quite beautiful and the sound loud and clear.

The audience appeared to be filled with groups of ladies and/or their unwilling husbands who secretly wanted to be rich attractive British men. The stage arrangement had to have been designed by someone with a theatrical background. All seven musicians were arranged on oriental-style rugs with floor lamps next to them like a big comfy Louisiana living room.

Photo: Erik Ljung

Laurie would make a fantastic politician. When he arrived on stage in his long-tailed suit and purple button-down shirt, it set off a choir of screaming, whistling women. He pandered the crowd a bit before settling at his grand piano and knocking off “Mellow Down Easy” by Little Walter alongside his Tennessee-based Copper Bottom Band.

The other musicians were obviously very seasoned talents. The addition of Sister Jean McClain’s strong voice and flailing arms added a Gospel-fueled liveliness to the group. The stage was littered with a plethora of instruments. They knew their set well and never missed a beat.

Laurie’s charming British accent accompanied a small history lesson in between each song. His training as an actor came into play when he switched between his own voice and an indistinguishable twangy American one for each number. For a second I thought I could have been trapped in a sequel to O Brother Where Art Thou where they replaced Clooney with Laurie. He has the same polished white guy blues air about him.

His homage to Southern American music of the 1920s-40s was very clear, covering artists like Jimmie Rodgers and Jelly Roll Morton. A dramatic cover of Mahalia Jackson’s “Battle of Jericho” combined devilish alternating red and white stage lights that appeared to be controlled by Laurie’s pointing arms.

Midway through the set they played a few unexpected 1960s covers such as “Yeh Yeh” and “Unchain My Heart,” then brought it back down with “Swanee River” and an instrumental “Summertime,” featuring a major-key piano solo by Laurie. I would have liked to see some original material, but since he was touring to promote his new album Let Them Talk (which is all cover songs) I guess it made sense to stick to the theme.

Photo: Erik Ljung

Laurie’s talent as a musician allowed him to hold his own at the piano alongside his band. He played electric guitar for a few songs and joked about how better trained his fellow musicians were. Although he’s been playing music since he was six, he seemed relieved to be able to concentrate on what he really loves doing, which he now can without monetary or time restrictions inflicted by major network television show tapings. He seemed really happy to be performing.

The show was engaging and redeemed previous notions I had about Laurie’s music. He is a showman, and it was infinitely better to see live versus listening to any mastered versions. The Copper Bottom Band was clearly having fun and enjoyed what they were doing. Their U.S. tour continues through mid-September.

Categories: Life & Leisure, Rock

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