Throughout the past ten years, singer Dan Layus has been the only constant member of Augustana through a number of lineup changes. For some bands, this is is one of the toughest roads to travel, especially once more die-hard fans get involved.
For Layus, however, it's been a chance to prove what he can do when left to his own devices. If his stop at Fitzgerald's on Monday was any indication, he's got plenty of tricks up his sleeves. Augustana took the stage around 9:15 p.m. for what would be a nearly 30-song, two-hour set.
Although Layus and company hail out of California, their sound is best defined as roots-rock. It feels almost too sincere to come from a state defined by its pull on men and women trying to make it big in entertainment. More like Nashville, but that might also have to do with Layus himself.
Without trying, he had a refreshing, humble ease to him that seemed to radiate through his music. Sure, plenty of musicians can make you feel something, but it's not often you get to witness a band or solo artist so connected with themselves, their music and the audience that they help you feel what they themselves are feeling.
Though Layus didn't speak much, there seemed to be little disconnect from his offstage personality with his onstage presence. Often times, he gave an earnest smile when fans would cheer him on or toss compliments his way. Other times, his face would light up with a heart-melting appreciation for the music. But if his personality made him likable, his talent made him enjoyable.
What was most impressive, however, was just how in sync the band seemed, with the kind of tightness that can't be taught but has to be felt. And no luck will give it to you, because even the luckiest of bastards couldn't perform as well as they did Monday evening.
"It's not usually this cold in Texas is it?", Layus asked the crowd as he tuned his guitar mid-way through his set. "I feel it's partially my fault -- it seems that bad weather has been following me wherever I go on this tour."
Of course, you'd never notice. Layus used his versatile vocal range to easily weave in and out of the tracks, demonstrating the importance of using the voice as an instrument and not a means to an end. At times, he sounded a little like Hanson's Taylor Hanson, and others like Delta Spirit's Matt Vasquez. In between was a striking resemblance to Jakob Dylan, both in tone and delivery.
Because most know Augustana for their breakthrough single "Boston," which dominated airwaves and invaded television programs after its 2005 release, it's easy for casual listeners to overlook all that Layus is capable of. Throughout the set, he covered all of the main points in Augustana's career, focusing on recently released LP Life Imitating Life. His most enjoyable moments, however, were older tracks like "Fire" and "I Still Ain't Over You."
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With four albums in the books, it's hard to deny the depth and talent within. Coupled with the fact that Layus is writing some of the most sincere music out there, that makes him seem to resonate one simple message: even though the radio might try to chew people up and spit them out, Augustana just doesn't have it in them to fail. And truth be told, we don't want them to.
So, How Was the Opener? UK quintet Scars On 45 opened the night with a 45-minute set that absolutely enamored the crowd. Because the songs revolve around the dual vocals of Danny Bemrose and Aimee Drive, the structures feel open, pure, and simple. The band recently released their own album, Safety in Numbers, and quite a few members in the crowd were already singing along.
The highlight of their performance was when Bemrose and Drive stepped into the middle of the crowd with only an acoustic guitar and let their voices fill the upstairs ballroom. Luckily for Houston, they promised to return on tour in the spring.
The Crowd: A surprisingly large number of middle-aged men in the crowd not accompanying a wife, daughter or girlfriend. There were, understandably, just as many ladies in the audience that seemed to have stars in their eyes for Layus.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I want to be his second wife" -- a selfie-obsessed fan referring to Layus
Random Notebook Dump: I wonder if Layus imagines himself in the ocean every time he plays "Boston."
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