Lisa Loeb Played A Great Acoustic Show at MGM Northfield Park's Neon Room
April 14th, 2019
I'm a sucker, admittedly, for a stripped-down live show where a singer bares their soul, accompanied only by their musical instrument of choice, an easy lighting setup, and a whole lot of talent. A few years ago I witnessed Kathy Mattea at the Tangier, giving it her all with a backup guitar player, a hot white spotlight, and the timbre of her amazing voice, which all made for an incredible night of nothing but raw talent.
I put that show in my top five...taking the number one spot, actually...for the year. I shot and reviewed 116 shows that year and the likes of KISS, Queen+Adam Lambert, and a handful of other big budget Cecil B. DeMille-style spectacles couldn't quite pull off what Mattea managed to do with her little guitar and big voice did on that little stage in that small venue.
Last night, as I sat in an overly-comfy leather chair in the newly-christened MGM Northfield Park's Neon Room, I was serenaded by '90s phenom Lisa Loeb. I got the same chicken skin that the Mattea gig gave me.
Known for her cat glasses as well as being the first artist ever to achieve the top spot on Billboard's Top 100 without having a recording contract prior to their success, she played to a fullish crowd for about ninety minutes. Since her mid-nineties' smash success with "Stay," from the hit Gen Xer film Reality Bites, she's released a whopping fourteen studio albums, become a successful children's music artist, starred in a hit Facebook Live show, and marketed a line of fashionable eye wear.
But last night was all about the music. She took the crowd through her career with a handful of songs and a plethora of stories. It was an intimate affair; at one point an audience member sneezed and she stopped strumming on her six-string to say "Bless you" to the allergy-ridden attendee.
Starting with "Wishing Heart" from 1997's wildly popular Firecracker, she played four tunes from that album throughout the set. Her smash "Stay" was a mid-set offering; followed by a fantastic cover of the standard "Dream A Little Dream Of Me," from her 2017 album of covers, Lullaby Girl. I love hearing artists returning to the Great American Songbook and tunes of that time; she did a superb job on a ditty that isn't as easy to master as some might think.
Between songs, she gave us a running commentary of why certain songs were (or became) important to her. Speaking to a predominantly forty-and-up crowd, she asked if we remembered the early '70s Marlo Thomas recording Free to be You And Me. As a staple of grade school health classes, of course, everyone in the room nodded that they did (who could forget the Marlo Thomas/Mel Brooks dialogue regarding the differences between little boys and little girls?). She offered her homage to that album, a friendly kids' tune called "Say Hello," from the 2017 release Feel What U Feel.
In a song that may be dissonantly out of place in a pop rock/nostalgia-driven show, her children's tune "The Disappointing Pancake," an original tune that was written to show her love of the memories of summer camp and all the fun that nights away from home, around a campfire, embodies, really worked. At first I had a little bit of a WTF quizzical look on my face, but was quickly won over by the, dare I say, sincerity of it all.
Ending the show with "The '90s," a thumb-your-nose at the nostalgia of yesterday in favor of the reality of now type of song, she departed the stage and offered to meet and take selfies with the whole house (which she did, to the tune of another ninety minutes or so).
In an era of pre-packaged pop and auto-tuned hacks, Loeb is a throwback to a long-forgotten era of only twenty-five years ago. She's one of the original nerd girls: A Brown-educated, Greenwich Village Gen Xer who successfully moved out of the '90s with her sensibilities and talent intact. She's a true talent and has the sustaining ability to cut a record of kids' songs and then put out an album of grown-up music with aplomb.
Review by Brian M. Lumley
Photo by Juan Patino