Most people probably have not heard of Lucius. I know that I didn’t hear of them, until I went to see Roger Waters last summer. While doing my research for my blog post on that show, I learned that Waters’ back-up singers were the singers that fronted Lucius.
When I saw the Roger Waters’ show, I felt like the singers from Lucius stole the show. Their voices were amazing! You can read more about the Roger Waters’ show here:
After that show, I had Lucius on my radar. So, when I saw they were doing an intimate acoustic show in Philadelphia, I figured it was a great way to see them. To add to the intrigue of the show, it was being held in a church. I must admit that I’ve never been to a concert in a church (outside of a church choir performance), so this was a first for me!
Keep reading to find out more about this unique experience!
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HISTORY OF THE BUILDING
The First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia is first and foremost, a functioning church with a Unitarian Universalist congregation.
On June 12, 1796, several Philadelphians formed the First Unitarian Society of Philadelphia, which became the first Unitarian church in the country. The church built its first building in 1813, and moved to a second larger building in 1828. They moved into their third and current building located on Chestnut Street in 1885.
The current building was designed by Frank Furness, who also designed the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In addition to its large sanctuary with a concert-grade Casavant pipe organ, the building has many rooms that allow it to serve as a community center for the region. One of those is Griffin Hall, which is on the basement level of the building. Griffin Hall contains a stage and a commercial-size kitchen.
THE BUILDING AS A PERFORMANCE SPACE
Because of the location and the size of the church building, the church can host several community activities. This includes everything from yoga classes to Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
With Griffin Hall, they are also able to hold concerts. In fact, in 2007, Rolling Stone magazine featured the church as one of its top alternative music venues in the country. R5 Productions has used the church as the venue for many of its indie music shows.
On this particular night, the show was held in the church’s sanctuary. The altar was converted into a stage, and the pews became the seats for the attendees.
Tip #1: They do not sell any concessions inside the church. However, the church does allow you to “bring your own”. You can even bring your own alcohol, if it’s not in a glass container. We saw some people sitting across the aisle from us that even had a small cooler filled with beers.
Tip #2: If you go to the show in the sanctuary, be prepared. Sitting on a pew for a couple of hours is uncomfortable. They have cushions on the pews, but they are very old and don’t provide a lot of cushion from the hard-wooden pew. In addition, the space between the rows of pews is very narrow, so there isn’t a lot of leg room.
Tip #3: If you are the type that needs to get up and use the bathroom during the show, do yourself and the people in your pew a favor and grab a seat on the end. Because the space between the pews is so narrow, it’s almost impossible for anyone to get past you unless everyone exits the pew and stands out in the aisle.
Tip #4: If you are looking to grab something to eat and drink before the show, Victor’s Bar (http://victorsbar.com/) and Mix Brick Oven Pizzeria and Restaurant (https://mixbrickovenpizza.com/) are just a block away. Victor’s is a separate entity from Mix, but you can order food from Mix’s menu and eat it while sitting at Victor’s.
Ethan Gruska is a singer/songwriter who also performs with his sister as the duo known as Belle Brigade. Gruska comes from a musical pedigree. His father – Jay Gruska – writes music for television, and his grandfather is the famous film composer John Williams.
Gruska released his debut album – Slowmotionary – just over a year ago.
Ethan Gruska took the stage at 8:10 p.m. During his acoustic performance, he alternated between playing the guitar and the keyboard.
Gruska’s music is very quiet and a bit melancholy. In fact, he joked during his set that the audience was in for a treat when Lucius took the stage. He said that not only were they a great band, but they would cheer us up after listening to all his sad music.
Gruska’s music – like many singer/songwriters – tell stories about things he’s experienced. One of the songs he played – “The Valley” – was about his life growing up in Los Angeles. He closed with a song that he said was about how weird the internet is.
While his music was on the melancholy side, Gruska had a great sense of humor. Throughout his set, he commented about how intense it was to be playing this venue, and how it was a little weird to look out and not be able to see anyone because of the lighting and how dark it was. He also joked about the weather, and the fact that he was from LA and didn’t pack for this kind of weather.
Gruska has an amazing voice and can command a room with his music, even though it is on the softer side. You could hear a pin drop during his set. He clearly inherited his father and grandfather’s musical talent.
Ethan Gruska is currently supporting Lucius on their tour. You can find more information on his website at www.ethangruska.com.
Lucius got their start in New York, but relocated to Los Angeles in 2015. The band is made up of Jess Wolfe (co-lead vocalist), Holly Laessig (co-lead vocalist), Dan Molad (drummer) and Peter Lalish (guitar).
The band released their first studio album – Wildewoman – in 2013. This was followed by Good Grief in 2016. Their most recent release – Nudes – was just released this month. Nudes is a compilation of acoustic versions of their hits, as well as a few new songs and a duet with Roger Waters.
Lucius got their start when Wolfe and Laessig attended the Berklee College of Music together. In 2007, they moved to an old Victorian house in Brooklyn, which they shared with a number of other musicians. Two of those roommates – Molad and Lalish – later became their bandmates in Lucius.
Wolfe and Laessig recorded their first album before forming Lucius – Songs from the Bromley House – in 2009. They made a one-time pressing CD of the album, and never re-released it.
As a band, Lucius released their first EP – self-titled Lucius – in February of 2012. Throughout their career, many of their songs have been featured in television shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and New Girl.
As mentioned in my intro, Wolfe and Laessig have performed extensively as back-up singers for Roger Waters. Most recently, they supported him on his Us + Them world tour.
Despite the threat of a major snowstorm in the Philadelphia area, and the start of some sleet and freezing rain, Lucius did not cancel the show. A check of the event page on Facebook showed some fans who had further to drive that were selling their tickets at the last minute, and several people saying that the “sold out show” was going to be half empty because of the weather.
That turned out not to be the case. We drove in from the southwest suburbs, and had no problems getting into the city. We arrived early and found a parking spot on the street right in front of the church. While some people coming from further away may have opted to stay home, they must have found people willing to buy their tickets, as it seemed to be a full house.
Lucius took the stage shortly after 9 p.m. While I typically try and take a few more pictures and at least a little video, I was limited in what I did for this show. It wasn’t that pictures and video weren’t allowed for the show. It was that the audience was so respectful to the artists, that it just didn’t seem appropriate.
There were people taking a few pictures (and even a few people who thought it was ok to leave their flash on), but for the most part, everyone in the audience kept their phones away and just enjoyed the show. In fact, there really was no talking either, which is a nice change from a lot of the concerts I attend.
Of course, the focus of Lucius is the singing and the voices of Wolfe and Laessig. Their voices are powerful, but one of the things that is most impressive is their control. They know precisely when to back off the microphone and lower the sound, and when to have it crescendo. And while the two of them harmonize in an amazing way, when the guys in the band add their background vocals, it sounds even more impressive.
The acoustics in the room really complemented the sound. Throughout the show, I kept thinking that the sound was almost as good as the highest quality digital recording, and not coming from a live show set up in a church sanctuary.
Throughout the show, Wolfe was the one that took the lead speaking to the crowd. She mentioned at the end of the show that she and Laessig were alternating throughout the tour on who was taking the lead on the “babbling”. Wolfe is also the more animated of the two singers. Both women wear platinum blonde wigs and matching outfits whenever they perform to make them look the same. But if you watch closely, you can see their personalities come out during the performance.
For the encore, Lucius brought Ethan Gruska back out to join them on the first song. The vocals of the three of them together were amazing! Wolfe described how they had all become a family. Wolfe and Laessig sang for Gruska’s sister’s wedding. Gruska sang for the wedding between Wolfe and drummer Dan Molad.
At the end of the show, the rest of the band left and Wolfe and Laessig remained on stage. They thanked everyone for coming out and supporting them. Wolfe also mentioned that they would be returning to the area on July 25th to do a show with some special guests. Wolfe talked about how they hoped that everyone that came to the show took something away from it that they needed, and then paid it forward as they went out in the world. They wrapped up with a beautiful rendition of Ilene Woods “A Wish is a Dream Your Heart Makes”.
Lucius is playing some intimate acoustic shows in the U.S. through the end of this month. They’ll be hitting Europe at the beginning of September before heading back to the U.S. in the second half of September. They will be returning to Philadelphia at Union Transfer on July 25th. Tickets go on sale this Friday at noon. You can find information on all of the upcoming tour dates at www.ilovelucius.com.
Have questions about seeing a show at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia? Want to know more about Ethan Gruska or Lucius? Are you a fan of any of these artists? If so, what did you think? Comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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