Hard Rock Casino Lake Tahoe hosted a delightfully intimate evening of live entertainment Friday, when Lee DeWyze headlined a night of balladry at the resort’s Vinyl club.
DeWyze took the stage after a succession of local singer-songwriters warmed up the crowd. With just a guitar and a microphone, DeWyze quickly captivated the Vinyl crowd with his soulful vocals, emotive lyrics, and rhythmic, upbeat strumming.
Tunes such as “Same for You” showcased a dark, edgy vibe, with DeWyze crooning and wailing over a bluesy minor stomp, “I’ve got something that you need to see; why don’t you meet me down by the old oak tree.”
He evoked a bittersweet, homesick vibe elsewhere, on songs like “West,” an upbeat, shuffling number that DeWyze wrote while on the road for two months. DeWyze said he normally avoids writing songs about traveling while touring, (they easily become wandering stereotypes of passing scenes, to paraphrase his logic), but he sure did a nice job on this one.
Playing a Gibson acoustic-electric guitar with a cutaway, DeWyze displayed solid finger-work. While much of his music is underscored by a bluesy, shuffling strumming, he also turns out some lovely finger-picking and cross-picking, accentuating the solo guitar thrum with higher-register notes and runs.
DeWyze’s solo style is punctuated by swift and sudden increases in intensity on songs such as “Paranoia” and “Stay Away,” whether it be his vocals, guitar, or both. A soothing, almost dreamy line of music can suddenly escalate into a searing and emotional tone, keeping the song styles varied and the audience on its toes.
Speaking of crowds, the one in Vinyl enthusiastically appreciated DeWyze, applauding and catcalling at the end of each tune. The veteran performer clearly enjoyed the evening’s fans, going beyond the standard “thank-the-crowd” routine
“You guys are a great crowd, you want to know why?” he said. “I’m going to tell you why, even if you don’t: You’re all clearly lovers of music. I can tell that you’re all just here to really enjoy live music, so thank you.”
DeWyze covers a wide range of styles and feelings, from the slow and meandering “Paranoia,” to the slinky and shuffling “Annabelle,” to the introspective, almost meditative “Stone.”
A highlight of the evening may have been when DeWyze launched into Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” after a brief homage to the late songwriter. Where I come from, this tune is along the lines of “Stairway to Heaven,” in that it is avowedly both a phenomenal feat of songwriting, as well as a major risk for eye-rolling and attention-wandering when performed before a live crowd. I’m not knocking the song and certainly not its author, it’s just that the moment and setting have to be right.
It was, and DeWyze nailed it, with a heartfelt rendition played even slower than the original (another discernible accomplishment). He appeared to be totally transported, entirely wrapped up in the song, and the concertgoers were as well. They let loose as he finished, clapping and cheering for the solo singer onstage.
“Thank you,” he said, with a grin.