Hugh Laurie plays the blues at the Calvin Theater

By Sarah Robertson

The perfect blend of music and comedy came to the Calvin Theater in Northampton last Sunday as Hugh Laurie and The Copper Bottom Band played a lively show to an equally entertaining audience. On a stage reminiscent of a 1950s living room strewn with vintage lamps and throw rugs, Laurie walked out with a shot of whiskey held high above his head. The audience cheered with approval as he approached the microphone, got on one knee and ceremoniously took the shot. The band then launched into a cover of the Dixie Cups’ famously catchy song “Iko Iko” to which Laurie sang, jumped and danced around stage.

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Soon after, as if the audience was not already engaged enough, Laurie prompted a sing-a-long to the song “Let the Good Times Roll.” He complimented the crowd on its collective singing, joking that it took an audience in Germany an hour to get to be able to hit the same notes.

In between songs, Laurie’s experience both as an actor and a comedian was apparent. He seamlessly punctuated his 2 1/2 hour performance with jokes and endless praise for his band, to which he attributed most of the success of his 2013 tour.

“I want to assure you,” he said in his opening remarks, “That no matter how badly I f-ck up, all your musical needs will be satisfied by this magnificent band behind me.”

The Copper Bottom Band is Laurie’s blues septet featuring vocalists Sister Jean McClain and Gaby Moreno, the multi-talented Vincent Henry and trombonist Elizabeth Lea. McClain and Moreno stood out in songs like “What Kind of Man Are You?,” “Kiss of Fire” and “Didn’t It Rain,” while Laurie showed off his skills on the piano. Laurie constantly praised his band members while poking fun at his own inexperience, even calling Henry’s accordion a “cappuccino machine” before playing one of his favorite songs, “Swanee River.”

Laurie’s modesty, however, was not necessary as he soon proved himself to be just as talented of a musician as he is an actor and comedian. His stage personality was just as eccentric as his television character Dr. House, the only difference being the addition of his thick English
accent. His combination of musical talent, impeccable timing, wit and passion for blues and jazz made Laurie the perfect front man for the Copper Bottom Band.

Midway through the show the band seemed to slow down with songs like “Careless Love” and “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel To Be Free.” Then the band stopped entirely and a man came out on stage with a plate of shots for the band. Laurie handed out the shots to his band members and spoke throughout the intermission, casually making jokes about
their drinking.

“Look at it this way; we’re going to drink for you,” he said as his passed around the plate of alcohol. “Because as we all agree, whiskey has mythical properties.”

Afterwards Laurie stood up from his seat at the piano and took center stage for two of his favorite songs, “Mystery Train,” an Elvis Presley cover, and “You Don’t Know My Mind.” He introduced these songs and several others with brief history lessons about them and their origins, always giving credit to the original artists.

Laurie then took on a more serious tone to express his sentiments on jazz and blues and what they mean to him.

“Jazz music, blues, whatever you want to call it,” he said. “This music is America’s greatest gift to the world and it is an honor to be able to share it with you.”

When the band resumed playing, they reinvigorated the room with a bouncing rendition of “Wild Honey” by The Beach Boys, and closed the show with “Green Green Rocky Road,” which they played twice. A standing ovation brought the band back out for a two-song encore in which they played “Go To the Mardi Gras” and “Changes.”

Laurie will continue his tour playing shows in Florida and Georgia, eventually finishing up in New Orleans. He has no plans for any new music just yet, but will be continuing his acting and writing in the months to come.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at [email protected]