The Surprising Lia Ices

August 12th, 2011

Lia Ices – Mercury Lounge – August 11, 2011

As she showed last night at Mercury Lounge, Lia Ices definitely has one of those voices that usually need just the simple accompaniment of a grand piano or an acoustic guitar playing short, sweet pop songs. But apparently, that’s not what she’s interests her. No, despite having a voice that needs no extra accoutrements, she surrounded herself with a band that’s got plenty of bite: funked-up bass, mallet-heavy drumming and occasionally vicious guitar that’s nestled into a comfortable spot between full-fledged rock and roll and tempered grooving. And no concise ballads to be found, instead Ices lilted the band through longish, loose and occasionally weird songs.

Working through most of her stellar new album, Grown Unknown, Ices’ voice reverberated through the PA, seemingly falling from the ceiling like a gentle snow shower. The show began, as the album does, with “Love Is Won,” her mouth formed the words to each lyric so precisely, you could practically see them coming out in a cartoon bubble. But she wasn’t content there, digging on her band, letting each song breathe and move as she and the audience danced along. The studio version of the album’s title track features a syncopated hand clap and an emotional swell of strings. Some bands might have simply used samples of the effects to completely recreate the sound live and left it at that. But Ices took the opposite route, letting those empty spaces fill with the overflow sound from the band and her keyboard fills making something new and equally powerful.

Late in the set, she introduced a cover song, saying it would be on an upcoming tribute album, without telling what the song was. The intro was long and drawn out with a slow-burn guitar and glowing keys. To me it sounded like Pink Floyd, but I doubted that was what it was until she started singing this sexy, slow-dance version of “Wish You Were Here” that had me reeling back in the preceding numbers and picking out the subtle Floyd influences—abrupt juxtapositions, psychedelic slide guitar and a general otherworldliness—that had passed me by unawares. There was more than one surprise behind that voice. —A. Stein