New York City isn’t quite the epicenter of the music world that it once was, what with so many facets of the industry now based in Los Angeles. But when it comes to fostering the growing undercurrent of funk- and R&B-inspired pop, the Big Apple still holds sway.
Theo Katzman, Vulfpeck’s breakout star, hails from Long Island and played his first non-college gig with the Ann Arbor-founded band on the Lower East Side—long before “Back Pocket” wound up in an Apple ad. Turkuaz’s neo-funk sound coalesced across the bridge in Brooklyn. Now, Lawrence is poised to push that style and sound even further with its own fresh-faced, infectious attitude.
The band, led by the bright-eyed brother-sister duo of Clyde and Gracie Lawrence, rode into a busy Memorial Day Weekend with a pair of West Coast shows, including a stop in L.A. at the Teragram Ballroom. The downtown-adjacent, 600-person, standing-room-only venue has become a friendly, familiar place for the likes of Vulfpeck and Turkuaz in recent years, and provided Lawrence with the proper stage to showcase its own resplendent talents in front of an enthusiastic audience.
Mere months after testing out new material in front of a packed house at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, Clyde, Gracie and company showcased a slew of songs off their second album, Living Room, which is slated for a September 14 release.
The latest tracks did well to diversify the stylistic offerings in Lawrence’s setlist. There were the Latin rhythms of “Limbo” as the opener, the slower jams of “Friend or Enemy,” which served as the perfect vessel for one of Clyde’s keyboard solos; the lamentations of a wonky sleep schedule on “Probably Up” and of the hard work of relationships on “Try”; and concurrent struggles with sadness and acid reflux on “The Heartburn Song.” On “Too Easy” and “So Damn Fast,” the siblings offered more intimate portraits of their inner thoughts and emotions, without the frills of their full nine-piece band.
That said, there was plenty of room in the set for Lawrence to cook up some late-night “Breakfast.” Clyde channeled his inner John Mayer on “Superficial.” Gracie summoned a young Michael Jackson on “Me & You” and a present-day Susan Tedeschi on “Shot.” The two intertwined their crooning on “Misty Morning” and “Do You Wanna Do Nothing With Me?”, with guitarist Peter Enriquez and the entire brass section descending from the stage to get down with the audience on the latter.
It wouldn’t have been a Lawrence show, though, without a hefty helping of early 2000s pop covers. In a nod to their days playing college gigs at Brown, the band treated Teragram to its rocking transliterations of Sean Paul’s “Get Busy,” Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” and not one, but two Christina Aguilera songs: “Beautiful” and “Come On Over Baby.”
All told, Lawrence’s showing in the City of Angels further solidified its talent and potential to propel a more authentic brand of R&B-inspired pop music into the broader culture. Who needs the Swedish songwriting machine to crank out tunes when you’ve got a pair of American-born prodigies—Clyde, who became the youngest member of the Songwriters Guild of America for the work he did on “Miss Congeniality”; Gracie, a former child actor with a diva’s voice—drawing on influences from Motown to ‘60s psychedelia and beyond to create music that’s as much a throwback as it is something wholly novel?
Which is to say, if this groovy corner of the New York City scene is going to take the world by storm, Lawrence may well be its best bet for the future.