Concert Review: Liz Cooper & The Stampede @ 9:30 Club (12/11/18)

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Liz Cooper & The Stampede (Photo credit: Shervin Lainez)

Liz Cooper & The Stampede came to the 9:30 Club prepared to deliver on promises and shatter expectations.

When Liz Cooper & The Stampede came to the 9:30 Club on Tuesday night, they were opening for Phosphorescent, a southwestern alt-folk country band (choose whichever of those descriptors fit best) that seems straightforward and first but carries an underbelly of experimentation and weirdness. Given that touring companion, it would have made sense to expect that Cooper would not play it straight. On records, the band is well paced, clearly organized, and structured in songs in a way that meets expectations. Live though, they transform into something free-floating, organic, wild, and really, really interesting.

The three-piece band arrayed themselves in a close-knit half circle at the front of the stage. Liz Cooper on the audience’s left, Grant Prettyman (bass) on the right, and Ryan Usher (drums) front and center. Their physical formation spoke directly to their connection in the music. They were effortless and played together with a psychic connection. Maybe it’s the trick of extreme practice making something look effortless and easy, but they moved and flowed through their songs like they were together a single person. All bands should make it feel effortless of course – nobody on the 9:30 stage should seem like it’s their first outing – but there was something so laconic that exceeded how most bands appear on stage.

In conjunction with that, I’ve rarely seen such a loose, comfortable band on stage. Free to move, playful, having fun. Again, bands shouldn’t be too stiff, but very often there is a measured focus when playing, players locked into the thing that they’re doing. And that’s fine, but this was a delightful change of pace to see a group focused and playing well, but also seeming to play. It must be great fun to be on that stage, and they let that shine.

Beyond the look and the feel, there was, of course, the music. Cooper played a somewhat short set – 5 songs, maybe 35 minutes, give or take. A couple songs, including the well-known Mountain Man, were direct and to-the-point: you know how they sound on the record and the live version is a facsimile thereof.

Harkening back to the free-floating, wild, and organic though, there were a few songs that started in fairly tame fashion, a chugging western jam feel to them. But as those songs progressed, they evolved, grew louder, grew shaggier, until they morphed into something like prog metal freakouts. Long, looping instrumentals that built on themselves and grew louder as the band went into these focused states. I’ve looked across the discography to find where these songs are, and Dalai Lama seems to hold an approximation of what they played live, but I cannot find much else (I’m no completest here, so if I’ve missed something, forgive me). But I want to find more, because these were the most interesting parts of the show. Watching these three flex not just their musical skills but their in-the-moment creative muscle was impressive high point for the set.

Songs Played (not 100% certain, and in no certain order):

Motions
Dalai Lama
Sleepyhead
Mountain Man
Hey Man

Author: Mathew Harkins

A writer and editor in Washington, DC.

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