Lisa Marie Presley Dosey Doe September 15, 2013
Lisa Marie Presley's entourage arrived in two giant gleaming buses on Sunday afternoon. People, already waiting in spontaneously arranged, purposeless lines, swapped stories about their Elvis memorabilia in idle attempt to one-up each other on some bizarreness scale. Most devote spare bedrooms to their King; people who commission textiles bearing His likeness seem to win these contests.
No conversation, it seems, is complete without a reference to His gospel recordings or his unrivaled love for his mother.
Lisa Marie does not tour frequently, so each show brings out the variety of freaks, superfans, weirdos, and the amiably curious befitting her immeasurable fame. Sunday's crowd reminded me of Hank 3's earliest club shows -- awkward loners with Sharpies and 12" vinyl LPs queued next to tattoos and TCB necklaces. Scenesters in black T-shirts stood in line with bikers, lawyers, energy traders and -- my favorite -- very old couples in big, shiny Buicks and Cadillacs. They all came out to pay some sort of tribute to something they believe she represents.
Inside, the stage was set much like it usually would be at a Dosey Doe show, with a steel guitar, a dulcimer and a fiddle on either side of a three-piece drum kit. Rolling cabinets filled with the best guitars Gruhn's sells stood next to an electric standup bass and a second drum kit incredibly similar to setups I've seen from Jane's Addiction and the Butthole Surfers. Multiple vintage electric organs doubled the bass much like Presley's two guitarists shared leads throughout.
Once the show started, it became immediately apparent that T-Bone Burnett, who produced Lisa Marie's latest album Storm and Grace, was the giant unseen presence in the room. Elvis was not. The newer, stronger material is not necessarily structurally different from the first single from her first album but it's a major departure from her second, poppier record. With Burnett on board, she's really onto something.
And if that previous album was all a product of Los Angeles, aiming to compete artistically if not commercially with the upbeat pop of people like Pink or Avril Lavigne, then this one is all Nashville. The songs on Storm and Grace come washed in the soul of purposeful guitars of every sort: steel, electric, and acoustic, with dulcimers, fiddles, and keys, this record is full of both mournful moods and defiant, triumphant characters besting their painful situations.
Very thin, and very pretty, Presley had frown lines and seemed to smile only briefly (if not infrequently), and not without great effort. The lyrics to her songs go a long way towards explaining all that pathos. As Kris Kristofferson once told me, there is sadness in every life, and seemingly all of Lisa Marie's sadnesses have been made public.
That can't make them any easier, but it can make for great art. Even though she unintentionally uttered a richly timbered, baritone "Thank you very much," Presley didn't even speak with a Southern accent. If she were simply riding coattails, keep in mind that she'd either be appearing in slapstick comedies, singing two-minute rockabilly tunes, or doing epic versions of gospel standards.
Instead, in charting her own course, her career has not been without missteps. But on Storm and Grace, producer Burnett places her in the sweet spot of his modernist Southern-gothic charm of his other recordings such as Robert Plant and Allison Krauss' Raising Sand. I can't imagine this album sounding very much different on CD, vinyl, or live in a club if it were recorded by Jack White; that's how spare and earnest these 15 songs are.
In fact, the most unexpected bright spots of the live performance came when Presley repurposed songs from her first two albums. Presenting those songs in her newfound format gave them life and context I'd missed before.
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I've been told Presley turned down larger Inner-Loop venues offering far higher financial guarantees, opting instead for a smaller venue with impeccable audio and a guaranteed sold-out room. Harold Rubins designed the acoustics and Michael Ford rebuilt the Dosey Doe's Big Barn from a salvaged 1800s tobacco barn, and the hardwood floors were rescued from the tear-down of the old Galveston Fan Company in the Heights. The result approaches acoustic perfection, and it's the reason touring artists eschew Houston's larger venues in favor of the Big Barn in The Woodlands.
The highlight of the night came when Presley took up a pair of long mallets and began blisteringly playing that second drumset during the "Unbreak" passage, following it with her boldest autobiographical work, "Sticks and Stones." Never picking up that tambourine again the rest of the night, she pounded the drums as the band reached their climax, sustained it for four solid songs, and left on a high note.
For a sold-out crowd, few sang along with every word of every song. Many sang along with the choruses or at least the title lyric. But by the end of the night everyone had bought at least one if not several copies of Presley's new album -- converts vowing to each other and to the artist to spread the gospel of this young royal who had earned the right to trade on her name.
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