Live Review: Leighton Meester & Check In The Dark @ The Vogue Theatre, Vancouver – May 30th, 2012

Arriving at the Vogue on Wednesday night I found myself filled with curiosity for the night to come. With a knot in my tummy (a curious condition that ails me when faced with the unknown) I took my seat among a sea of darkened faces and turned my gaze to the stage..

Dana Williams opened the evening with her saccharine vocals and voguish apparel straight from the late 60’s fashion era. Williams is a talented and beautiful singer/songwriter who, while born in to a world surrounded by stars, has established her personal style over the years through hard work and dedication to her art. On stage she shone as she carried her audience through a poetic performance with an honest and endearing quality not easily forgotten. Her genre is a mix of jazz, blues, soul and pop, and seems to suits her personality perfectly. I was delighted to hear her breathtaking piece, Lonely One, and practically jumped out of my seat with excitement as she brought Mike Frieman (Check in the Dark) onstage to wrap up her set with a cover of Home – originally by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.

Following Williams performance, Check in the Dark took the stage. Frieman – with his Wisconsin twang, ripped jeans, and country roses shirt – stood front and centre, surrounded by a somewhat nondescript yet amiable looking group of musicians comprising George Laird, Eli Hludzik, and Etienne Franc. Their opening song (Shake) was a bit country and certainly ‘radio-friendly’ with a melodic rhythm and mellow vocals. Following this, however, each song seemed to have a different style, from country pop to jazz-infused jam band and folk-rock. While it was a bit difficult to peg down a cohesive style, the band is no doubt a creative group who employs an array of musical techniques to produce a diverse collection of tunes.

Though it was their country inspired tunes which I enjoyed the most, I found the band to be charming throughout their performance. They interacted well with the audience, who was unusually talkative, and brought a lighthearted atmosphere to the stage. Highlights from their set include The Lost Song – a clear crowd favourite, Fossils – with it’s jazzed-up composition, and their endearing love song Forever Sometimes.

A few short minutes after finishing their set, Check in the Dark took their stations once more to accompany Leighton Meester in her upcoming set. In anticipation, the crowd at the front of the theatre pushed their way to the edge of the stage, craning their necks for a glimpse of Meester. At first sight of her the room went wild, throwing admiration at her from every direction. She responded in kind, bubbling over with visible excitement, thanking us profusely, and taking a moment to pay tribute to our anthem. She captured the hearts of many within those first few minutes, and had the crowd completely entranced for the remainder of the evening.

From her breathy vocals and unusual dance moves to her audience interactions and throwback wardrobe, she exuded a unique stage presence which was both quirky and adorable. Though her vocal style, at times reminiscent of Lisa Lobe, seemed at odds with her pervasive emotional state (which reminded me of a young girl who’s dreams just came true), the discrepancy only added to the appeal of the performance. As for her chosen genre, I would call it indie folk with a country tinge – for lack of a better description. It was relaxing and enjoyable to listen to, and a suitable choice for her vocal abilities.

Songs that stood out to me included Jenny (which is apparently not named after anyone named Jenny – if you were wondering), and her captivating duet with Frieman, The Stand In. She pulled out both an acoustic guitar and a ukelele during the evening, demonstrating a range of talent perhaps unknown to her audience, and for an encore sang Feel Like Makin’ Love, which went over very well with the crowd – not surprisingly.

In case anyone is wondering, the reason I haven’t mentioned her on-screen persona is because from the moment she appeared to the moment she ducked back off stage there was not one instant that she resembled Ms. Waldorf in any way, shape, or form. In contrast, she was spontaneous, affectionate, and endearing throughout, creating an intimate atmosphere that made for a memorable experience.

While some may feel I’m simply fawning over yet another celebrity singer, the truth is that there is something truly distinct about Meester; she has an interesting style in many ways, and a seemingly genuine disposition to go with it. Though I’m not a huge fan of her pop genre exploits, if she continues on this indie road we may be hearing a lot more of her in years to come.

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