Mi and L'au | Live Review

The Big Takeover | Dave Heaton

evocative, dreamy music

Mi and L'au with Lewis and Clarke - World Cafe Live (Philadelphia) -Tuesday, January 17, 2006

23 January 2006

The smaller upstairs room at World Cafe Live seems at first like an awkward place to watch bands play. It's set up like a restaurant, with dinner served at tables to the concert-goers who want some orange-ginger swordfish and wine to go with their music. You come in the door and are greeted like you're in a restaurant, not a club "would you like a table for one, or is a seat at the bar OK?" On this quiet, rainy Tuesday night, though, the odd yet still laidback mood of the place ended up seeming just right, particularly given the gentle (and odd) nature of the music. And the venue's impeccable sound system made me understand how important sound can be: Right from the start, the music sounded amazing. I usually only pay attention to sound if it's noticeably bad, but I kept thinking that even bands I hate might sound half-way decent with this set-up (though the truth is probably the opposite‹crystal-clear sound would accentuate their faults, not hide them).

LEWIS AND CLARKE opened the show, with the Pennsylvania-based usually one-man-band LOU ROGAI playing on this night as a trio. The instrumental set-up of one guitarist, one drummer, and one keyboardist who occasionally switched to a harp-like instrument really worked to complement the songs, which were mostly new songs that will be recorded in the future. Lewis and Clarke's last album Bare Bones & Branches had a nice quiet poetic feeling to it, but on this night, these new songs sounded fuller and even more beautiful.

A duo consisting of a French man (L'au) and a Finnish woman (Mi), both playing acoustic guitar and singing, MI AND L'AU create evocative, dreamy music, as slow as molasses (or as LOW). But as haunting as the minimalist atmosphere of their music is, the songs themselves, and the lyrics, are often quite direct. That directness seemed even more on display in concert, partly because the crisp sound made the lyrics and voices shine.

They began their set with L'au playing one repeated guitar chord, so quiet that at times I kept wondering if he had stopped playing. Then Mi began singing, her unusual yet beautiful voice having a transfixing quality, especially when voice lifted and rose through the quiet atmosphere in an unexpected, transcendent way.

Mi and L'au's set drew from their self-titled debut album, released last Halloween by Young God Records, but also included a decent number of songs not from the album, all in the same vein and just as good. Of the album tracks, highlights included the L'au-sung "I've Been Watching You" and the Mi-sung "Christmas Soul." There's a real presence to Mi and L'au's music‹it's something about the slowness, beauty, and intense nature of it. It is music that is unusual enough to get reviewers to start writing about fantasy worlds, yet it offers clarity instead of escapism. It makes time stand still‹you become more aware of your surroundings. On this night, the sound of rainstorms, passing trains, and even the cafe's quietly active receipt-printing machine only accentuated that feeling, instead of distracting from the performance.

Though the upscale (in decor and attitude), non-smoking venue made me feel a bit out of sorts at first, this ultimately was one of the more satisfying live-music nights I've experienced in a while. The uniqueness of Mi and L'au's music was only amplified by their live performance, which made me want to go back and listen to their album a few hundred more times. Lewis and Clarke similarly impressed. And I was home before midnight, my clothes not smelling of smoke, so maybe the more "professional" side of the venue wasn't a detriment after all.