Review: Lena Elizabeth delivers cozy and commanding solo set at the Warming House

Lena Elizabeth 4.12 WH
Lena Elizabeth at the Warming House 4/12/18. (Photo: Colleen Cowie)

Before Lena Elizabeth took the stage at the Warming House, the venue was wrapping up its weekly open mic night. Audience members trickled into the listening room from the lobby/bicycle shop upstairs and settled into their seats.

John Louis, director of operations at the Warming House, introduced Lena Elizabeth. He explained that instead of reading an artist’s bio, the venue introduces the performer by asking them a question.

“What is your patronus?” Louis asked Lena Elizabeth, referring to the magical animal guardians from the Harry Potter series. “A bear,” responded Lena Elizabeth. “It’s cold and I want to be a bear right now.”

Despite being April, Minnesota has refused to usher in spring weather. Throughout the night, Lena Elizabeth delivered a captivating acoustic set that allowed the audience to forget about the spring chill and take refuge in the cozy ambiance of the Warming House.

Lena Elizabeth often performs with a backing band of drums, bass, and guitar, or in a duo with her bassist. At the Warming House, she performed a solo set, singing and accompanying herself on her signature instrument, the baritone ukulele.

She opened with the song, “In Time,” which she often plays at the beginning of her set. The song documents her family and her musical upbringing. Lena Elizabeth’s father taught guitar lessons, and would start his students out on the baritone ukulele. He taught her how to play the ukulele, and Lena Elizabeth quickly fell in love with the instrument.

Lena Elizabeth followed “In Time” with “Cold Coffee” and “Soldier,” two other songs from The Line, her debut EP, released in 2017. She played a number of songs from the EP throughout the night, and even debuted a song that she had finished writing the day of the performance, called “20 Something.”

“I’m kinda scared, kinda broke, kinda don’t know where I’m going,” Lena Elizabeth sang. “20 Something” documents the uncertainty and stress of juggling jobs, covering rent, and finding the trajectory that you want to follow.

Lena Elizabeth described watching her musical idol, Lissie, perform. She explained the humbling and humanizing process of watching her favorite artist navigate nerves and mistakes on stage.

As I was watching Lena Elizabeth perform, I was in awe of how confident and commanding she was, belting out emotionally vulnerable songs only accompanied by the four strings of a ukulele. Not only was Lena Elizabeth performing a solo set, but she was doing so in a snug, 40-person-capacity room to an astonishingly silent audience.

“It’s pretty unique to have an audience like this where they’re listening to you,” Lena Elizabeth said. Unlike at noisy bars, at the Warming House, audiences come with the sole intention of hearing the music. The loudest sounds besides the Lena Elizabeth’s playing were the occasional creaking of people walking around upstairs and the shutter click on my camera.

Lena Elizabeth’s set consisted of all original material, except for a cover of “Bye Bye Love.” The song, written by the Everly Brothers in 1957, has been recorded by a number of musicians from Simon & Garfunkel to George Harrison. Lena Elizabeth performed a quiet, brooding version of the song, casting a somber mood over the music to match the melancholy lyrics.

Lena Elizabeth shifted the mood with a love song written for her fiancée. Instead of writing her own vows for her wedding, Lena Elizabeth decided to write a song instead. The result is the tender ballad, “Always.”

One of the most striking aspects of Lena Elizabeth’s performance is her voice. She packs each of her songs with a fully-fleshed dynamic range, building from soft whispers to fiercely belted notes. I came into the show expecting a calm, quiet set of acoustic songs, and left blown away by Lena Elizabeth’s powerful and emotive delivery.

This performance was the second in a series of free concerts happening every Thursday in April, May, and June at the Warming House. The series is funded through a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council.

Setlist:

  1. In Time
  2. Cold Coffee
  3. Soldier
  4. 20-Something
  5. By Bye Love (cover)
  6. Nobody Wants You
  7. Loaded Gun
  8. Always
  9. Run After Her
  10. Holy Water

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