Here’s my recap of last night’s Hugh Laurie concert in New York City! My apologies in advance for how long it is, but reliving it through writing is too much fun!
I arrived at the Town Hall Theater at around 7:15 and noticed that crowds were already gathered outside (not in any kind of organized queue but just hovering in throngs). So, I scoped out where the merchandise was set up in the lobby and decided to hover near that door so I could get my Hugh Laurie souvenirs first! The doors opened shortly thereafter and I went in and made a beeline for the merchandise table! After I got all of my Hugh stuff (really nice offerings this year – way more t-shirt and keepsake options than during the last tour), I was seated and could not BELIEVE the vantage point! I was a little worried at first not to have been able to score piano-side tickets but it turns out that it didn’t matter at all – I was in the seventh row (right near the aisle) and could see everything and everyone (most importantly: Hugh) perfectly!
The crowd gradually trickled in to fill the place but people were still milling about at 8:00 so I looked to the wings and noticed two of the stagehands (one named John and the other whose name I don’t know – is it still Simon?) watching to see when the orchestra section looked mostly full. At around 8:10 the house lights dimmed and out strutted the Copper Bottom Band! People started clapping and mildly “woo’ing” (the mildness of that “woo” is something I’ll return to later), but then the place went NUTS – Hugh came out last, holding his shot glass of Macallan, and greeted the very excited crowd with that unmistakable Hugh-gaze. He did his little “kneel on the ground and offer the shot to us as a tribute” shtick and everyone went wild again! Finally, he went to the microphone and said “Good evening, New York” and everyone went vaguely hysterical – LOL! It doesn’t matter how many times I hear the man’s voice…I lose it too. I mean, it just never gets old, let’s be honest. He told us how he would completely understand our nervousness about approaching an event where someone completely unqualified to do something was doing it anyway, but not to worry because the Copper Bottom Band is completely qualified and will take care of everything when he “F’s” it all up – to which the crowd responded that he would never mess it up, and he looked at us with those huge eyes and said “oh, trust me, it WILL happen!” The crowd wasn’t convinced – we were fully aware of the awesomeness and the humility that is Hugh.
I won’t go into each and every song because I know many of you have been to concerts, watched the videos, or read other accounts and know it all like the backs of your hands. I’ll just give my highlights for the rest and then the standout anecdotes because I genuinely do believe that as phenomenal as the music is – and it is – it’s Hugh’s interaction with the crowd that make the most lasting impression on the people at the end of the night. Maybe I shouldn’t project that on to everyone, but that’s certainly how I feel. The songs are just incredible and they’re being played brilliantly by people who really love the music and are gifted at making the music transcend time and space, but the way Hugh relates to the audience is what makes me break out into a ridiculous smile when I stop to think back on the concert experience. Like every experience I’ve been fortunate to have watching my favorite performer perform – I walked away from this one feeling thoroughly entertained, energized, and completely renewed and re-validated in my fan-ness! (Note: I will be making up words throughout this recap; I think I’ve just done that with re-validate and fan-ness.)
Start of the show and highlights:
The band started with “Iko Iko,” which I really enjoyed! I had somehow managed to avoid every single concert video from this tour – I told myself not to watch because I didn’t want to spoil it – and it worked out perfectly for me because it all felt new and wonderful! The “Iko” performance was a great kick-start and the gong at the end is a riot! Also, Hugh’s dancing – there couldn’t be anything more dorky or lovable than that!
From there, they went into “C’mon, Baby Let the Good Times Roll,” which was notable for Hugh saying “some of you are very ‘yay!’ about the prospect of singing along and others are asking ‘I bought the f’ing ticket, why don’t you sing the songs?” which I (and the rest of the crowd) thoroughly enjoyed! I remember that song and the audience participation from the last tour and I still love it and hope they never lose it – it’s a great tune and Hugh does such a good job charming everyone into really participating!
Other song highlights for me were “Evenin’,” “Didn’t It Rain,” “Send Me to the ‘lectric Chair,” “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” (I had heard bits of that in Hugh’s most recent Desert Island Discs interview and really loved the Nina Simone version, but this one absolutely FLOORED me), “Wild Honey,” “Lazy River,” “Go to the Mardi Gras,” “Green Green Rocky Road,” “Changes,” and “I Wanna Be Like You” (the last two of which were done during each of the TWO encores – loved that!). Ok…basically the highlights for me consisted of the entire show so I’m either very easy to please or it’s too good of a show for a simple “highlights reel,” and I’m really thinking it’s the latter. Hugh and the band are just fantastic. It’s such a dynamic, energetic show – you can’t walk out of the concert without feeling somehow uplifted, and that’s a feeling not easy replicated. I see lots of things that I enjoy – TV shows, movies, exhibits, etc., and none of them come close to leaving me feeling this keyed up. It’s Hugh. His enthusiasm and love of what he’s doing and his support of what the artists around him are doing is genuinely infectious. It also has to be said that Hugh’s vocals are really strong on this tour (I especially loved his baritone uttering of “lazy” during “Lazy River,” which drew much appreciation from the crowd!). I can’t express how much I love his version of “Changes.” He sounds SO good singing that one. And while I miss “Tipitina” and “Swanee River,” Hugh’s piano playing is more incredible than ever and featured beautifully throughout. Plus, there was an excellent display of forearm during his guitar playing in “Lazy River” and “You Don’t Know My Mind” – so that’s a double win!
Random anecdotes of cuteness:
Hugh came out wearing one of my personal favorites: the plaid pants and plain white dress shirt with the long black coat! It doesn’t really work as an ensemble but fashion is the last thing I care about and Hugh is quirky and charming enough to pull off anything. He could’ve come on stage wearing a burlap sack and Birkenstocks and I would’ve been like, “Awwww, he looks great in brown!” Whatever! What I loved about his clothing, though, is how he uses it as a prop – his wardrobe is part of his stage presence and therefore part of the show. For example, each time he went to sit at the piano bench, he looked at the audience and dramatically flipped the tails up and over the bench so he could sit without the jacket pulling. The crowd loved every minute of it and he said something along the lines of, “I’m going to do this every single time. It’s going to get old, but I’m still going to do it!” After a particularly rousing performance by Sista Jean, Hugh asked the audience how to follow that and decided the crowd would get behind him if he stripped the jacket – and so he did! And so we “woo’d” and clapped and loved every minute of it! Besides, it revealed the forearms, and I’m always in favor of that!
Speaking of Sista Jean and “woo’s” – Hugh acknowledged the band after one of Sista Jean’s performances (can’t recall which one right now but I’ll revise this if it comes to me or if anyone else can remember), and he was really moved by the performance and kind of holding his face in disbelief at how amazing they were. The crowd’s “woo” wasn’t loud enough for Sista Jean though so she motioned to the crowd to rev up the “woo’ing,” telling us, “come on, these people are PLAYING up here!” and the audience responded with heightened “woo’s!” Hugh seemed to notice and enjoy that!
Later in the show, and to prepare the microphone for one of Elizabeth’s solos, Hugh lowered the mic on the stand before he introduced the number. He then had to bend down to speak, which was hilarious! He pointed out to the crowd that he should wait next time, lest we think the next number will be sung by “an extremely short singer!” He then shook his head in his shame at himself and the crowd got an even bigger kick out of that!
During the whiskey break, a few cute things took place. First, Hugh apologized for not having enough for everyone in the audience but promised that he’d be drinking his shot FOR us, so we should be ok with that! Then, he mentioned that the length of time the band can milk for the whiskey break is largely cultural – joking that New Yorkers were unlikely to be patient enough to watch people on stage drink in front of them, while the crowd in Switzerland let them go on for 45 minutes, just thinking, “ok, this is what they’re doing!” Then he asked if anyone was Swiss, assuring the crowd that it’s a beautiful country, which got a big laugh. Dave Piltch pointed out that a woman in the far left corner had raised her hand to say she was Swiss, so Hugh reassured her again – “it’s just a BEAUTIFUL country” until she said more loudly that she was from Chile! Hugh turned to a now slightly embarrassed but very much laughing Piltch and said, “how did Switzerland turn into Chile?” to which some inaudible (but based on the nonverbal cues – very funny!) discussion took place between the two! Hugh then turned to the lady and said, “Chile – ALSO a beautiful country!” It may very well be one of those “had to be there” moments, but it struck me during the show, so I’m sharing!
At one point in the concert, Hugh was worried about going on after the women sang a beautiful number, so he started telling the crowd how he’s from Oxford and asked if we had any questions! He never intended to answer any questions, of course, but someone very loudly asked him about the little bust of Charles Darwin that sits atop his piano! “Why is it there?” the person asked. Hugh’s response was fantastic: “Why is it there? Why is it there? There, as opposed to HERE, you mean?” and then he moved it closer to him on the piano! The crowd roared, and Hugh remarked that the concert was not the proper forum for a discussion about ideology and religion, but that Darwin is one of the “greatest living Englishmen in history…wait, NOT living, he’s quite dead…one of the greatest EVER Englishmen in history!” he said, to an appreciative applause (and laughter over the “living or dead” mix-up) from the audience. He went on to say that little Charles Darwin is on his piano as a cautionary tale for buying anything on e-Bay! He said he was under the impression that it was a large bust of Darwin, so the person taking the picture must have “very tiny hands!” to which Piltch looked over to the wings and pointed to someone of a rather small stature and uttered “was it you?” and then laughed – it turned out to be Hugh’s wife, Jo, that he was talking to! Very cute little exchange as she smiled and laughed back at him. (Just as a quick aside: she danced in the wings throughout the show, and if you’re close to the stage, you can’t miss her! It’s pretty adorable!) The crowd was loving every minute of Hugh’s “misled by an e-Bay seller” story, but he got serious for a moment after that, stating with some degree of conviction that Darwin simply had one of the most important ideas in history and he finds it very inspiring to be reminded of him and his accomplishments. The crowd appreciated that honesty and applauded! Right after that, the ladies did a duet of “My Journey to the Sky,” which of course is very spiritual and makes many references to Jesus. After the song, Hugh applauded the ladies and hugged them both, then turned to his little Charles Darwin statue and said, “yeah, well, what do you say about that, Charles Darwin?!” and the crowd rolled!
There were lots of great little moments during the show that make me smile when I think about them, but those are my very favorites! Sista wanted to sing the end of “Didn’t It Rain” again, so the band did that twice (not sure if that’s been happening at each show as, again, I haven’t watched a single video!). Also, when Hugh came out during the second encore (the crowd was up out of their seats and NOT budging at all after the first one!), he said, “we’re doing the whole show over again!” to which everyone “woo’d” and applauded in approval!
After the show, the electricity in the place was crazy – everyone seemed to really enjoy the almost three hours of fantastic music and showmanship. I decided to head back to the merchandise table because there were a few things I didn’t pick up in my haste to get to my seat earlier in the evening! After I had completed my transactions, I went outside with my sister to join my brother-in-law, who had staked out a place in the ever-growing crowd outside the stage doors (it was a big, tight crowd and no one was going home any time soon). I’m not great in these situations (not very aggressive in crowds, and terribly nervous around celebrities), but I stayed with my family, and we decided to wait and see if Hugh would come out. The stage crew was loading everything onto the equipment truck, and while the security people were mostly friendly, the stage crew was a little less pleasant, constantly telling the crowd to get out of the way (perfectly understandable as they needed clearance and didn’t want anyone to get hurt; they just weren’t particularly nice about it) and then attempting to get us to flee by insisting that Hugh had left. The band and their families/friends trickled out intermittently though and assured us that that wasn’t the case. Hugh was still inside and would come out in due time. The crowd didn’t thin out at all, and about an hour and a half after the show had ended (and after the security guys had taken two very nicely organized groups of people and forced us into one large throng crammed right in front of the stage door – seriously, it was illogical, intimidating from Hugh’s perspective, I’m sure, and ridiculous given that we had parted to make a clear path for people coming out of the door!), Hugh finally came out preceded by his security guy! Hugh was wearing a beautiful charcoal gray coat with a blue scarf and black hat, and kept looking at the security guy with a funny face as he told us the rules (“he has five minutes, autographs only, one per person, no pictures!”). Hugh’s facial expressions were what I was watching, but I gathered by the security guy’s tone of voice that he meant business. As soon as people saw Hugh, though, the crowd behind me (I was in the front, with my sister close behind me, blocking people from taking me out!) started shoving, and I was afraid they were going to careen us all into Hugh, and we’d go home empty-handed. It didn’t work out that way, though, and the shoving didn’t make Hugh balk at signing! He very graciously signed everyone’s tickets and CD’s, then finally turned (after probably only 20 seconds that felt like a lifetime) to me and took my outstretched “Let Them Talk” deluxe edition photobook and signed it!! I believe my very witty and coherent self managed to utter “oh my God, oh my God, oh my God” eight times or so and then looked at him, dumbfounded, and said, “I can’t believe you’re right in front of my face right now!” I didn’t say, “you’re my favorite artist ever, I love all of the work you’ve ever done, watching or listening to you can brighten my mood no matter what else is going on in my life,” etc. Nope. Just a ton of “oh my God’s” and a statement of disbelief. Hugh seemed to find that funny, though, and laughed (HE LAUGHED IN RESPONSE TO ME), saying, “I am – thank you so much!” and made eye contact with me (EYE CONTACT, PEOPLE – EYE CONTACT – IF YOU REMEMBER HIS ITAS INTERVIEW FROM 2006, YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS!) before returning my photobook! I said, “thank you, thank you!” then ran out of the throng of people, toward my sister, where we proceeded to jump up and down like school children, while I’m pretty sure that for a second there, I was so overwhelmed that I cried! Just for a second, and then I promise I stopped jumping/crying and regained my composure! Others around us were squealing, jumping, emotionally overcome, etc., so I didn’t feel quite as silly in the moment as I do recounting it!
Overall, it was an absolutely INCREDIBLE night, and I’ll never forget it. It’s going to be one of my most cherished Hugh experiences ever (frankly, one of my most cherished experiences ever – period), even if I somehow manage to get a picture with him eventually! One step at a time though! If you have an opportunity to see Hugh – PLEASE, take the opportunity. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but really, whatever the logistics that have to be worked out, whatever your reservations may be, do what you can to make it work if it is at all possible. I promise you won’t be sorry! This is an experience that I’ll ride for a LONG time to come, and I wish for nothing less for all of my fellow Hugh fans! If he’s not coming your way, or it’s just not possible to see him during this tour, I hope my ridiculously long-winded recap helped a little to make you feel like you were there. That was my intention.