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What You Can Learn From Sondre Lerche (A Night At The Troubadour)

September 24, 2009
The Troubadour, LA

Last night I was fortunate enough to attend Sondre Lerche‘s sold-out show at The Troubadour.  Before we jump into the details, here’s what I learned during the  show:

  1. It’s all about simplicity – you don’t need a lot of equipment. . . or any equipment at all
  2. The better you are, the less you need to sing
  3. Sex sells. . . tickets and merch
Sondre Lerche at The Troubadour

Sondre Lerche at The Troubadour

Lerche is a musician from Norway whose U.S. career launched in 2002, and who continues to sell out shows and merch -  how does he do it?

I first discovered Lerche in 2002, when Faces Down came out.  It was during my Largo era (they’re not music snobs. . . they just have better taste than you).  I used to spend several nights a week at Largo, hanging out with the sophisticated music insiders, which gave me an early awareness of all the truly talented emerging artists on the scene.

Lerche was the guy to hear/see/buy at the time and I was among the few people in LA who knew about Lerche during his opening stint with Nada Surf.  In March 2003, I went to Nada Surf’s sold-out show at the Knitting Factory to see Sondre Lerche.  Just to add further context – this was the year Nada Surf’s critically acclaimed album, Let Go, came out.  The place was packed and hot, and everybody was jockeying for the best position to see their favorite band – Nada Surf – play.  .  . until Sondre Lerche hit the stage.

Lerche spoke very little during that show.  If I remember correctly, his English vocabulary may have been quite limited at the time.  From the moment he sang the first note, the audience was spellbound. He played for approximately 45 minutes while the crowd stood silently, eyes wide, mouths open (not to talk – just so they remembered to breathe).  When Lerche finished his set there was an uproar of applause  and then silence.  He left the stage and everybody around me looked like they had just witnessed the coming of their religious icon.  People, who had initially been excited to see Nada Surf, looked blankly at each other as if to say, “now what?” In fact, a significant number of people left early during Nada Surf’s set, muttering that nothing could top Lerche’s performance.

The next day, everybody in Los Angeles was talking about Sondre Lerche.  That was the show to be at, that nobody knew about, and they weren’t going to miss him again.  Lerche’s music broke beyond the sophisticates and to the masses of LA. His headlining shows have been sold-out ever since, which is the only reason I hadn’t been back to seem him. . . until last night.

"You knew the rules by heart. . . "

"You knew the rules by heart. . . "

Cut to The Troubadour, 9:30pm, September 24, 2009:  another sold-out show for Lerche.  I believe that you can get a good gauge of how a show might go based on the energy in the audience before the show. This crowd was buzzing . . .  and talking about a lot of sex.  Now, I love sex, and I’m happy to talk about it, but this felt like I’d walked in on some inside joke – as if they’d passed around a note before the show that read: Discuss your wildest sex adventure between sets. I heard about people’s video-taped escapades and sex on the beach (not the drink, the act) for 15 minutes leading up to Lerche’s performance. And let’s be clear, this was not a trashy crowd – these are your neighbors, colleagues, sons and daughters – and they’re having a good time.

Boy, was the audience excited when Lerche took the stage! Other things that I noticed about the crowd (pay attention new artists and record labels) were:

  • It was a young audience.  Lerche has managed to remain relevant 7 years later, continually gaining new fans
  • It was a good-looking crowd, a nice mix of women and men, but mostly good-looking women – which as you know, draws the men
  • They were so into the show they didn’t budge for an hour and a half – not to go to the restroom, not to get a drink (sorry bartenders, but Lerche is really good)
I hope Nelly disses me on the internet

I hope Nelly disses me on the internet

Now none of that may seem ground-breaking or revolutionary, but what is somewhat amazing is that Lerche continues to build this loyal following, without the help of radio or mainstream media outlets.  In fact, speaking about the song “Easy to Persuade,” Lerche said, “I get a lot of people saying I ripped off Nelly. So I’m hoping he disses me, disses me on the internet, or maybe on MTV.  That’s probably my only shot at getting on MTV.”  Lerche is one of those artists who is so good people know about him, and they will come to his shows and buy his t-shirts repeatedly.  He is also extremely engaging and charming on stage.  If he didn’t before, he’s certainly got a great handle on the English language now! I haven’t laughed that hard between songs in a while.

"But tell me all about our little trailer by the sea.  Jessie. . ."

"But tell me all about our little trailer by the sea. Jessie. . ."

Lerche sang a nice mix of newer material and old favorites. He also covered “The Word Girl” by Scritti Polliti and “Jessie” by Joshua Kadison (remember this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iElty90IPiw).  The “Jessie” cover was one of the highlights of the night, dedicated to Lerche’s friend and opening act, Jesse Marchant (aka JBM). Lerche’s expressive performance, infused with his humorous version of the song (achieved via pauses, inflections, and facial expressions as he sang) had the crowd begging for more.  In fact, I kind of got the impression Lerche had only planned to sing the first verse and one round of the chorus, but people were so into it, he sang the entire song, a cappella.

Lerche also sang an old favorite, “Two Way Monologue”, a cappella. Although, this time not by choice.  About midway through the song, Lerche encountered technical difficulty with his guitar cable and had to unplug.  Not only did he play the guitar without amplification, he moved away from the mic, stood on the edge of the stage, as close to the crowd as possible, and just sang. The crowd offered support, at first cheering (until Lerche reminded them they needed to be quiet in order to hear) and then singing along.  It was one of those magical impromptu moments that you dream to be part of during a live show.

Lerche captivates the audience

Lerche captivates the audience

When Lerche sang “My Hands Are Shaking”. . . well, he didn’t have to sing.  The audience sang the entire song while Lerche played guitar and lent his voice on occasion.  But mostly, this song was performed by his fans. “Wow, usually on a really good day, you hope the crowd sings along for the encore.  But that’s not even the encore,” Lerche said, addressing the audience graciously. Lerche also had the benefit of crowd vocal support when he played “Heartbeat Radio.”  “Tell me what you think about this song,” Lerche sang, and the crowd sang back, “I love it!”

Line of fans waiting to buy merch

Line of fans waiting to buy merch

Lerche returned for 2 encores and the crowd left gratified, but not before stopping by the merch booth.  I’ve been to a lot of big shows at The Troubadour (Queens of The Stone Age, Ryan Adams, The White Stripes, Damien Rice, etc.) and I have never seen a merch line this long.  On a good night the line will extend the length of the bar.  But last night, there were so many people in line that The Troubadour was forced to open the side door and allow the line to extend outside.  The line of fans waiting to purchase music and merch (and hopefully meet Lerche) stretched down the block, beyond the building, to the corner of Doheny and Santa Monica.

Seven years later, Lerche upholds the promise of a show you’ll never forget.

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