Layus shines as Augustana delivers enjoyable show

A review of Augustana, Graffiti6 at the Paradise Rock Club on January 31, 2012

, Contributing Writer

Augustana have just one problem when they go to Boston: it seems everyone knows their name. And despite having a rather new look, the San Diego-based pop rockers led by frontman Daniel Layus rocked an enjoyable show before a jam-packed Paradise Rock Club on Tuesday night.

To say that 2011 was disappointing and difficult for Augustana would be an understatement. After the group cancelled their late 2010 tour due to “circumstances beyond their control”, Epic Records dropped their contract when sales for their latest, self-titled record fell short of expectations. It wasn’t just tours, sales and label support that they lost, though; keyboardist John Vincent, bassist Jared Palomar and drummer Justin South all left last year, leading to rumors that the band had broken up. But don’t count them out just yet – with a new lineup backing original frontman Layus, new songs, and a new attitude, Augustana is back on the road and ready to prove that theirs is a tale yet unfinished.

Sorely missed are the talents of Vincent, Palomar and South, but the band seems to have found adequate replacements, bringing in their previous drummer David Lamoureux and assigning bass duties to his brother Jordan. Both are familiar enough with the material, and more. The vocal harmony they provided in songs like the night’s opener “Hey Now”, “Either Way I’ll Break Your Heart Someday” and “Dust” sounded natural, even beautiful at times. David injected some much-needed energy into the band’s on-stage chemistry with spirited, head-banging antics, and Jordan took on even the most challenging bass lines with a cool confidence, gliding through “Steal Your Heart” with apparent ease.

Layus shone in the night’s much-anticipated highlight, “Boston”. Cheers erupted even as he sat down to his keyboard and only amplified in the cramped venue as he began playing out the lively melody. The concert quickly became a giddy sing-along as fans tried – to no avail – to match Layus’s falsetto during the chorus. The frontman happily obliged the role of crowd-pleaser as he closed the song, singing “I’m way up here in Boston” then shouting “Gronkowski, Hernandez, and Bill and Tom” before finally resuming with “where you all know my name”. Whether or not the San Diego native is truly a Patriots fan, announcing his support for New England in the upcoming Super Bowl brought the crowd over the edge.

The true appeal of Augustana, of course, is the voice of Layus, the group’s one remaining original member, and he appropriately took the spotlight for the majority of the night. Though soft ballads like “Fire” and livelier tunes like “Shot In The Dark”, as well as hits “Sweet And Low” and “Counting Stars”, he stunned the crowd with his range and sheer emotion. He sang “On The Other Side” with such gentle passion that he might have been singing to his young daughter rather than a rock club, leaving the audience savoring every line till he broke the (very) elongated last note to close the song.

But old-age adages seem to apply to Augustana too, and it’s true that their strength is also their weakness. Relying too much on Layus’s signature tone – a voice that’s just a little angst short of a wail – risks a monotonous sound and it’s questionable if they have enough variety to hold a crowd’s interest for a lengthy set. Undoubtedly, several filler songs from Tuesday’s 26-song set could have been cut with no complaints (“Last Mistake” and “I Still Ain’t Over You” come to mind).

Luckily, that’s where the Augustana’s new material comes in. Finding themselves without a label has not stopped Layus and company from writing new songs. The band took time to road test a few new songs with “Life Goes On”, “Need A Little Sunshine” and “The Easy Lessons Are The Hardest To Learn” all standing out. Each offered catchy melodies that suggest a shift away from the tone of their previous material. The band appeared to enjoy playing the new songs the most, even closing the show in surprising fashion with a softly-sung melody called “Alive”. It seemed to be a symbolic closing, as Layus proved he has more to offer with a new-look Augustana that is ready to chart a new course.

British rockers Graffiti6 opened the show with a charming blend of pop, R&B and British soul. The band explored the wide variety of sounds that their new debut album Colours offers, including the gritty “Lay Me Down” and folksy ballad “Goodbye Geoffrey Drake”. Frontman Jamie Scott proved to be a little too fond of his falsetto in “Over You” but his driving vocals in “Stare Into The Sun”, as well as the attractive melody of “Free”, elicited enthusiastic applause.

Setlist:
1. Hey Now
2. Mayfield
3. Last Mistake
4. Someone’s Baby Now
5. I Still Ain’t Over You
6. Stars and Boulevards
7. Sweet and Low
8. Either Way I’ll Break Your Heart Some Day
9. Twenty Years
10. Shot In The Dark
11. It Only Means I Love You
12. The Easy Lessons Are The Hardest to Learn
13. Dust
14. Borrowed Time
15. Life Goes On
16. Counting Stars
17. Fire
18. Boston
19. On The Other Side
20. Like A Whisper
21. Just Stay Here Tonight
22. Need A Little Sunshine
23. Wrong Side Of Love
24. Hurricane
25. Steal Your Heart
26. Alive

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