Visitors from three different parts of the country converged on the Varsity Theater on Tuesday night for a show that featured an entire lineup of touring bands. The bill included Arizona natives What Laura Says representing the Southwest, Ohioan Jessica Lea Mayfield representing for the Midwest, and Annuals bringing Southern good humor (and, we can hope, slightly warmer weather) from North Carolina.
What Laura Says opened the bill and played as though they were headlining a show in front of thousands. The long-haired headbangers took folk- and bluegrass-infused rock to another level even before the club had begun to really fill. While it can be difficult to maintain a great deal of energy onstage without an enthusiastic crowd’s support, What Laura Says didn’t seem to mind at all, playing off one another’s excellent guitar riffs while dashing about the stage. The guys reminded me quite a bit of Lynrd Skynrd—not only because they only look and dress like them, but in their multiple guitar solos and general enthusiasm.
Next up was a young artist to watch, Jessica Lea Mayfield. Last year, at the tender age of 18 Mayfield produced one of the best records of the year in With Blasphemy So Heartfelt. While Mayfield and her two backing musicians took a song or two to fine-tune their sound, when they found their stride they did it in spades. Even at a young age, Mayfield is already notorious for the brassy confidence she showed onstage. Her forthright country-infused songs about love and spiritual rebellion wouldn’t have sounded as great if they weren’t delivered with the same boldness in which that they were written. It can’t hurt that she has been given the seal of approval by rock/blues stalwart Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) as well as indie tastemaker Pitchfork. Her backing musicians supported her admirably, especially on guitar.
Headlining the night were frequent Twin Cities visitors Annuals. Bandleader Adam Baker proclaimed his love for the Varsity Theater’s lush surroundings before launching into a set that included many new songs off of their recent record “Such Fun.” Baker cracked jokes between tunes and sang as fervently as ever; in characteristic fashion, his mouth constantly flapped like a guppy’s. I am not as familiar with the band’s new material, but I enjoyed a number of their classics including a great rendition of “Carry Around.” Annuals combine a pure indie rock sound with influences that range from tribal to freak folk, and their live set is at its most compelling when all six band members combine to form really complex and unusual musical arrangements.
If you happened to miss the show don’t worry—since they visit us often, I am sure Annuals will be back. Hopefully Jessica Lea Mayfield and What Laura Says follow their lead and become repeat visitors to the Twin Cities. (Mayfield appeared at the Cabooze last year, opening for the Avett Brothers.) Since nearly every band at some point complained about the cold, though, let’s hope that next time it’s in the summer.
Jon Behm (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Minneapolis-based photographer and writer. While his specialty is music, Jon has a wide variety of interests that tend to take him all over the Twin Cities on a daily basis.