I’m hanging out on a teal, art deco couch near the stage in the Lee Street Listening Room. Lazer Lloyd is sound checking; he’s really happy with the sound of the room and asks if there’s time for him to shoot a couple videos.
Lazer is in a clean, white t-shirt, faded jeans and sandals. On his head, a wide-brimmed fedora beneath which salt-and-pepper sidelocks blend with his long beard. He speaks with a laid-back amble. There’s no reason to rush to the end of a thought. But, don’t confuse laid-back with unopinionated. When his manager, Yo Seidman, begins shooting video, capturing that nice sound, Lazer stops mid-song.
“What are you doing?” he insists. He wants the video shot in a particular way, one continuous shot. He doesn’t want different angles spliced together later. This is, I think, an ongoing debate unlikely to be settled tonight, and likely to be resumed tomorrow at the next gig, good sound permitting.
It’s Wednesday evening in Lewisburg, WV, a tough night to fill a room, but a dozen or so people come out. Most are locals who know Lee Street Listening Room is the best place for an intimate and uncommon show. One guy, Brian, a die-hard Lazer fan, has driven nearly 2 hours from Roanoke, VA. Most performers don’t mind the smaller crowd of the Listening Room because the trade off is an audience so rapt a pin wouldn’t dare drop.
Lazer begins with Inside of Me, a song on his newest album, Backstreets, out this year. In the first verse he sings, “I’m out here in the wilderness looking for my home, somewhere in this loneliness we are not alone.” In the second verse, the same line evolves: “We’re out here…looking for our home.” Later it occurs to me, it’s that subtle shift that draws fans by the many thousands. He is able to transition gently and imperceptibly from I to we.
And, as Yo says to me later, “There’s something healing about his music that people seem to need right now.” In a time when nearly any topic becomes a point of division, Lazer Lloyd offers simple, universal messages upon which everyone can agree.
Lazer has found himself on stage in small-town West Virginia after a whirlwind couple of days that have delivered him from his home in Israel to the Piedmont-Triad Airport in Greensboro, NC on to Winston-Salem for a show, followed by South Boston, VA for a second.
“We saw six deer and so many possums on our way here,” Lazer muses. “Possums must be the ugliest animals ever made and we still didn’t hit them,” he laughs.
Lazer tells stories between songs, and nearly every song is dedicated to someone. It might be a person who inspired its writing, or it might be someone he’s just met. His third song of the night, Backstreets, is dedicated to “the lady preacher of the Methodist Church in Lewisburg.” I’m not sure who exactly that is (could it be the lady preacher of the Presbyterian church?), but Lazer caught her sermon on tv before the show, and he liked what she had to say about how eagles teach their young to fly.
Lazer’s broad hand floats through the air; this is how a mother eagle flies. He has five children at home in Israel, and a new grandson to whom he will drink a glass of wine at the end of the show.
For the next song, Lazer invites Lee Street Listening Room founder/keeper Adam DeGraff, a renowned violinist, to the stage for a bleuegrass jam. “I’m not very good at bluegrass,” Lazer admits.
“Me either,” Adam adds.
In immediate and direct opposition to the words they’ve just spoken, Lazer and Adam take off on a call-and-response of guitar and, well, fiddle, as it were. The audience probably suspects this has been rehearsed. I can attest it wasn’t; they’re just good at what they do.
The next song, Many Roads, is dedicated to the Baptist preacher in Ft. Worth, TX who made a lasting impression on Lazer during a flight years ago.
“You know, forty to fifty is a danger zone.” Lazer is on a new thought now, or maybe it’s the same thought, depending on what was said on that flight with the preacher. “You start thinking you know something at forty. After fifty is great because you realize you don’t know anything.”
He begins the song which includes the line, “You might think you’re on the road to heaven, but you’re headed straight to hell.” I’m nervous because I’m forty.
Lazer has an enormous fan base in Brazil which seems like a stretch to me until I later see the chat feed from the live stream of the evening’s show. Indeed, Brazil was tuning in.
Perhaps the most charming thing about Lazer is the fact that no compliment goes un-dedicated. Apparently, a fan from Brazil once told Lazer his playing made him “forget the world.” In response, Lazer composed an acoustic piece called Esqueca Do Mundo, Forget the World.
He adds, “To deal with the world, I have to take time to forget the world.” He’s full of counter-intuitions.
Lazer cut his teeth on Stevie Ray Vaughn and B.B. King, legends he’d hoped to play with some day. Now, he holds out for Willie Nelson, his last surviving inspiration. “Take it easy on me,” he sings, “good Lord knows I been trying,” in Been Tryin’ , the song he says he'll sing with Willie.
The show runs long to a room content to keep listening. Lazer weaves in a couple covers, Midnight Rider and Let It Be. His version of the latter is how the Beatles would have done it “if they’d hung out in West Virginia drinking a beer or moonshine instead of tea,” he says. I’m thinking the Beatles were hitting stuff a bit harder than tea by 1970, but I get his point. He invites a little gravel into the lyrics, and, if I’m not mistaken, some Little Drummer Boy, too, somehow expanding the song on both ends of an imaginary moral spectrum.
The evening closes with America.
I wish we never stole lands from the Indians. I wish we never made the Black man slaves. As much as I love America, our freedom’s got a few stains…before we start preaching to the world, best we remember from where we’ve come.
Lazer sings, “America, still I love you,” in only the way an American who left the country 24 years ago can, with the sort of perspective and compassion time and space affords a person.
I’m not exactly sure what to make of Lazer Lloyd, and I suspect he likes it that way. Somehow, by allowing what we might call “good” and “bad” to co-exist within each song, Lazer simplifies everything.
I’m left wondering, what was it we were all arguing about? Oh yeah, whether to shoot the video in one sequence or not. Everything else seems a little more distant, like we forgot the world for a while.
To learn more about Lazer Lloyd, listen to his music, and watch videos, visit LazerLloyd.com.