Lydia @ Middle East Upstairs 10.21.11

by Carolyn Willander (Communications), published November 3rd 2011

photos by yeatoria

When Lydia announced in March 2010 that their forthcoming album, Assailants, and subsequent tour would be their last, I cried for a week. When frontman Leighton Antelman announced this past May that they would be returning from hiatus, I cried for two weeks. At just 17, I had not been old enough to see them play at the Middle East Downstairs during their “Goodbye & Farewell Tour.” To hear that not only was my favorite band producing another album, this September’s Paint it Golden, but also playing at the Middle East Upstairs, was embarrassingly emotional news for me. But I wasn’t the only one overwhelmed by Lydia’s return; the show sold out weeks in advance.

The Middle East Upstairs is an intimate setting to say the least. Holding less than 200 people, it was the perfect venue to perform for the dedicated Lydia fans who hadn’t yet forgotten their favorite band, and who were eager to thank them for their return in person. I got the chance while coming out of the tiny bathroom next to the stage, when I bumped into Leighton in line. His personality as effortless as his lyrics, he recognized the shock and awe on my face before smiling, patting me on the shoulder, and whispering “Enjoy the Show.” I was so dazed I almost missed his obviously intentional reference to the first track on Assailants.

Leighton took the stage shortly after with barely an introduction, to play “A Place Near the City,” my favorite track of Assailants. For someone who writes some of the most beautiful lyrics I’ve ever heard, Leighton is a man of few words. The band performed tracks from all four albums, taking the fans on a journey through Leighton’s memories of the past eight years. With just one other member of the original band, drummer Craig Taylor, remaining, it was almost painful to hear him belt out “Hospital” without former member Mindy White harmonizing in the background, or hear him sing former member Maria Sais De Sicilia’s verse in “It’s in Your Blood.” But these were all Leighton’s lyrics, and none of the searing emotion found on the albums was lost.

A surprising level of energy came from the band as well. I couldn’t help but applaud the guitarist and keyboard and bass players, Justin Camacho, Matt Keller, and Matt Funderbunk. They had the difficult task of replacing Lydia staples like Steve McGraw, Mindy, and Evan Arunbull, and did so incredibly well.   It was obvious as they sang along and bent over their instruments that they were once fans like us. They were just as appreciative and excited to be there as we were in the audience. (I confirmed this during a great conversation after the show, when I found Justin and Matt lingering in the audience.)

When the show ended, the audience had no right to be sad. Our favorite band had returned with an incredible album and an unbelievable performance.  Everyone was beaming as they stood in line to shake Leighton’s hand and show off symbols of their devotion like old concert tees and tattoos of lyrics and album art.  Lydia fans are undoubtedly some of the most devoted in the alternative music scene. For me, Lydia is like a soundtrack playing in the background of most of my memories. Needless to say, I was holding back tears as the two of us posed for a photo, and “Stand By Me” played in my head.

Also, check out the impressive opening act, Ocean Is Theory at oceanistheory.com

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