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Live review: Laura Veirs at Spaceland

March 10, 2010 | 12:33 pm

On a chilly Tuesday night that was surprisingly well-suited to the scarves, striped sweaters and scruffy beards that have overtaken Silver Lake fashion of late, Laura Veirs transported Spaceland to an unspoiled wooded corner of the Pacific Northwest.

Which suited the Portland, Ore.-based singer-songwriter just fine. Dressed in plastic-rimmed glasses and pigtails that were also reflected in a good chunk of her crowd, Veirs performed from her gorgeously folk-dusted new album, “July Flame,” which feels tailor-made for whiling away hours in nature with its allusions to green rivers and maple trees -- even if “nature” in this case counts as a densely packed L.A. rock club.

Opening with “I Can See Your Tracks,” a gentle guitar-and-voice ballad that kicks off the self-released album produced by Grammy-nominated husband Tucker Martine, a very pregnant Veirs hushed Spaceland's typically chatty crowd with a bright, disarmingly lilting voice. Weaving around a sparsely plucked guitar and a sea of airy harmonies that on record were provided by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, the song's hymnal-like atmosphere recalled a more grounded version of indie favorite Joanna Newsom.

Helped in no small part by the frequent airplay from local tastemakers KCRW-FM, a small roar went up from the crowd as Veirs led her versatile, instrument-swapping band through the album’s title track, a gently ominous mix of rumbling percussion and sawing strings from violist Alex Guy that compares a breathless summer romance with the season's peach varietal that gave the album its name.

With its traditional instrumentation and intricate compositional verve, much of Veirs’ music neatly fits into what some quarrelsome corners of the Internet have derisively called “NPR rock,” a pejorative term that implies a certain level of cozy softness supposedly implicit in the acoustic-leaning music from like-minded indie heroes such as Grizzly Bear and Wilco.

Yet such complaints feel like needless sniping in the face of the unapologetic beauty that runs throughout Veirs’ craft. “Spelunking,” taken from her 2005 album “Year of Meteors,” drifts through almost paralyzingly intimate allusions to eyeless creatures haunting the human heart. The densely orchestrated “To the Country” (from 2007’s “Saltbreakers”) was transformed into a backyard singalong by Veirs, who patiently -- and somewhat quixotically -- trained opposite sides of the club to carry the song’s sweetly buoyant choral outro.

Not surprisingly, such traditional leanings led Veirs to a few nods toward the vintage sounds at her roots. A breathlessly accelerating take on the Appalachian standard “Cluck Old Hen” lighted up the crowd with Veirs' insistent banjo and sawing viola work from Guy, and a rollicking take on Fleetwood Mac's sunny barn dance  “Never Going Back Again” neatly encapsulated two influences working in Veirs’ corner.

“I wanted to make something built to last, a bottled ship with a golden mast,” Veirs sang in a yearning ballad that closed the show. From all impressions thus far in 2010, mission accomplished.

-- Chris Barton

Photo of Laura Veirs onstage at Spaceland with violist Alex Guy, right. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times