Hugh Laurie & The Copper Bottom Band: New York, NY, September 10, 2012
Laurie spent a good portion of the evening serving as a musicologist as well as a performer. Many songs were introduced with detailed information about the composer, original performer and the most well-known version of the song. Additionally, Laurie managed to seamlessly and humorously insert his history into the preamble to many of the songs. Following "Wild Honey," he began the introduction of the next song with, "I took piano lessons when I was a child. I really hated my teacher. I stuck with it for months, crawling through the practice manual, looking forward to one song toward the middle of the book. The day finally arrived, when the teacher turned to page 26. 'Swanee River,' she read, 'Negro Spiritualoh no...' With that she turned the page...And so," he said in his very proper upper-crust English accent, "I killed her." The version of "Swanee River" began with the traditional spiritual and bluesy opening that magically segued and transformed into a rockin' boogie woogie version that would have been quite at home in a deep south juke joint.
The band then started to jam on the extended intro to what, to untrained ears, could have been "We Will Rock You." Laurie put all fears aside when he exclaimed that, "If you think we're going to do a Queen song now, you've taken a very wrong turn." The jam, at this point, evolved into the very funky "Will It Go Round In Circles."
Sister Jean McClain then took over on lead vocals and sang Bessie Smith's "Send Me to the Electric Chair." The song ended with the stage lights flickering and audience cheering deliriously. Laurie then rolled his eyes and interjected, "Good luck to anyone who has to sing after that."
It was at this point that Laurie introduced Professor Longhair's "Tipitina" as a song that "has influenced many New Orleans piano players. I don't know what it's about or what it means and frankly I don't care. I just love it." The ensuing version with its emotional vocals and rolling piano was electrifying and joyous.
When introducing "Green, Green Rocky Road" Laurie cheerfully announced that "dancing is not only allowed; it's required." The band then kicked it hard with a rendition that leaned heavily on a funky Memphis Soul beat. When the song came to an end, Laurie again stood at center stage and gave the audience a heartfelt thank you for coming while joking that the band didn't know any more songs and were the show to continue "we would have to start over from the beginning."
Laurie and the band then left the stage only to return a very short time later. Laurie again, thanked the audience for their indulgence and kindness. He then sang the plaintive yet bouncy "Changes" with its lyrics:
"Love must always turn to sorrow
'Cause its here today and gone tomorrow
Still the world goes on the same."
The show closed with a rousing version of "Tanqueray," on which Laurie morphed his already deep voice into a very southern growl that demanded the attention of the already enraptured audience. The effect and the performance were stunning.
The lights came up, and Laurie and the musicians took their bows to thunderous applause. The actor/musician strode to the front of the stage, raised his arm and with a flourish presented The Copper Bottom Band in its entirety, took another bow and simply said, "Good evening, New York!"
[Additional article contributions by Christine Connallon].