Jon McLaughlin | 11.10.16

He gave us everything he had: tremendous vocal range, falsetto, full-on voice, a piano clinic, and fragile moments.


The Soiled Dove, Denver

It was our first time to the Soiled Dove, and at first, we weren’t sure what to make of it. It was almost comedy club–like: arced chairs and tables around a small stage. The tables and seats were numbered (i.e., assigned), which also seemed rather formal. And the crowd—well, it’s not what we’re used to. We’re usually at venues without seating—Bluebird, Ogden, Gothic—where we know what to expect: audience members younger than us. But not tonight; tonight, we were all in the same age group.

Taking a stage that held just a piano, stool, and small table (for two water bottles and a blue coffee mug, the latter of which McLaughlin used exclusively), the man of the hour was met with enthusiastic applause and whistles. He started with “Human,” which I immediately noticed had the same line as Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” The reason for this soon became apparent, as he segued into that song for a couple stanzas—beautiful.

After the first song, he greeted us, expressing his joy at being back in the Mile High City. “I always get a little out of breath when I come here,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting, like a first date ever time.”

Before “Why I’m Talking to You,” he prepped the crowd with a lengthy, humorous description of the song: jazz…no, wait: a weaker version of jazz …no, wait: jazz-pop. He asked for our participation in singing the title line, conceding that maybe the genre wasn’t our thing and offering, “You know your limits.”

He was electric, even without the full band I’d seen him with in April. I’m never sure about a performer playing solo, but he was kicking it, the combination of voice + piano + personality = perfection. He’s a consummate storyteller with a kick of dry humor and a comic’s timing.

And the audience participation was amazing. They were eager to jump in, happy to comply with his suggestions. At one point, he got the crowd snapping. Snapping! He totally slowed down the set and moved into Louis Armstrong’s “All of Me,” delivering it so perfectly, it was like he’d written it himself. As he delivered the breathy, stripped-down, barely-there vocals, the crowd was perfectly silent.

We learned he started playing piano when he was four, and writing songs at 19: as he explained, he spent 15 years wanting to do this but not doing anything about it. Finally, he recorded some songs and put them on MySpace, which lead to record label attention and the subsequent signing with Island Records. Unfortunately, rather than let him write his own songs, the label shuttled him off to Los Angeles, having him cowrite with a variety of songsmiths. He realized, sadly, that the career he’d dreamed about wasn’t what he wanted; he returned to Indiana and thought it was over. Lucky for us, McLaughlin realized he still had the passion; he just needed to do it on his terms.

On this night, he gave us everything he had: tremendous vocal range, falsetto, full-on voice, and fragile moments. Even though he was technically performing solo, the way he played the piano, it was like a voice in itself. Although he couldn’t deliver everyone’s favorite songs, we had no complaints about the performance we’d just been given. | Laura Hamlett

Photo by Jim Dunn; view the full album here

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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