Lovefest at LaSalles

The Laura Love Band sings out against Measure A

HOT LOVE: Laura Love stirred up a sweatfest at LaSalles.

HOT LOVE: Laura Love stirred up a sweatfest at LaSalles.

Photo by Tom Angel

The irresistible Laura Love had the crowd in the palm of her hand at the steam bath that was LaSalles last Friday night. And it wasn’t a case of an artist performing down to her subordinate fans. Bassist Laura and her band of four kicked out two sets of funky, dance-infused fun to a roomful of appreciative peers.

The fan-artist connection was apparent even before the show started. During the open sound check, a few early patrons filed in. As Love and her skillful band, acoustic guitarist Rod Cook, guitarist/mandolinist/vocalist Jen Todd and drummer Chris Leighton, got the sound bugs out during several takes of “Sativa,” Love already wore an infectious smile, nodding to fans and dancing a funky little jig.

And then it was showtime. Love was a chameleon of musical styles, changing genres at the drop of a hat but somehow never getting away from a cohesive musical flavor that was undeniably her own. And the sound was excellent.

The crowd was immediately drawn together during the opener, Love’s a-cappella version of “Amazing Grace,” which turned into a full-band, zydeco shuffle by song’s end. The group followed that up with “Capricorn and Hominy,” which had a Native American flavor. Love’s songbird-like voice acted as an extra instrument all night, melding purposefully and playfully with Cook’s energetic finger-picking. Love worked her devoted fans into a frenzy and kept them there virtually the entire show.

Other first-set high points, aside from Love favorites “Woe is Me” and “Mahbootay,” a tribal-sounding tribute to Love’s posterior, were two classic covers from different eras. One was Nirvana’s “Come As You Are,” with its unmistakable bass line that Love has perfected, and the other was “Shenandoah,” a traditional folk song she sang as a poignant solo.

Love, who moved and grooved around the stage like a bohemian gypsy, was over clothed for the 100-degree-plus heat inside the club. She wore baggy, checkered pants, a long, black T-shirt and a vest. Her long braids sprung out from under a black bandanna. But it didn’t slow her down as she rocked and danced, thoroughly enjoying herself throughout. She teared up a little during a tender version of “Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,” but other than that, Love beamed smiles all around as she sang playfully warbled lyrics of personal life experiences and social commentary.

The second set also produced some American classics. First the band offered “Stoned Soul Picnic,” a soaring Laura Nyro song made famous by the Fifth Dimension. Next came Jackie DeShannon’s 1969 hit, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” which had a decidedly reggae beat. It was easy to image Love, born in 1960, singing along with those songs on the radio as a young girl.

A rousing version of fan favorites “Octoroon” and “Sativa” also highlighted the set, as did the rock classic “Mystery Train,” complete with a locomotive-like Cook guitar solo, to end the evening.

Aside from the musical Lovefest and the collective battle against wilting in the oven-like club, there was an additional communal quality to the show. The concert was a benefit to defeat Measure A, the proposed Otterson Drive extension and bridge project over Comanche Creek. When Love was approached about performing for the cause, she quickly accepted.

“I believe strongly in [preserving] our riparian zones,” Love said before the show. “Our biosphere is important. We already have a million business centers and walls, and this [show] was a no-brainer for us.”

Concert promoter Steve Schuman said Love reduced her performance fees and, after expenses were covered, all proceeds from the event were to go to NEFR (Neighbors for Environmental and Fiscal Responsibility).

“People here [in Chico] live what they believe,” Love went on to say. “When it’s money versus the environment, money usually wins. And when money wins, very few people actually benefit.”

Chico City Councilmember Coleen Jarvis, a Measure A opponent, was visible in the crowd, alternately grooving to the music and urging some patrons to make a statement with their votes next month.

Love threw occasional political barbs throughout the show, such as, "Hey, a developer wants you to pay $3 million for a bridge to his business park," which brought obligatory boos, and "Chico proves time and time again that the revolution can be fun," which drew big cheers. But mostly this was a music event, and Laura Love proved once again that she’s near the top of the heap when it comes to visiting all sorts of music genres—rock, funk, pop, gospel, folk, soul and Celtic—and mastering them all.