When Lisa Marie Presley initially decided to pursue a career in music, she could have gone in any direction she chose, and – if it was really what she wanted – she could have easily become a pop star. With her sultry singing voice, her good looks, and her last name, it’s very easy to imagine back in the ‘90s any major record label welcoming the opportunity to work with her. Get her some great pop songs written by professional hit-makers, teach her some choreographed dance moves, put her in a sexy music video, and the rest would have taken care of itself. A glitzy stint in Vegas – a town that her father owned – was also there for the taking. And in addition to the pop world, the country music community also certainly would have welcomed the opportunity to mold her into the next Shania.
Presley, however, would have none of it. She didn’t even release her first album until she was in her mid-30s, and when she did, she was the primary songwriter. And her music was neither pure pop nor country. Throughout the past decade, her career has moved forward on her own terms and at her own pace, and with her most recent effort, “Storm & Grace,” she appears to have found her best voice.
On Saturday, when her “Storm & Grace” tour made a stop at the sold-out Sellersville Theater, she continued to hit her stride.
Presley, supported by a superb five-piece band, opened the show with a stirring performance of “So Long,” one of the best tracks from the critically acclaimed “Storm & Grace.” Her music, particularly her new music, is thoughtful, textured, and rootsy and is anchored by raw emotion. If it was released 15 years ago at the time of the Lilith Fair – a golden era for female singer/songwriters – it’s easy to imagine Presley being invited to be a part of such a mega-tour. Instead, in 2013, she is out in mid-sized theaters reminding music fans that listening to someone truly expressing themselves through good songs is a fine way to spend an evening.
“It’s nice to be here in Pennsylvania,” said Presley before introducing “Over Me,” another catchy number from the new album, which was spiced by some thumpy stand-up bass and mandolin. A slinky rendition of “Storm of Nails” followed.
Though Presley’s musical style is greatly different from that of her late father, there was a period in his life, particularly in 1973 following his divorce and while recording at Stax , when he fully embraced soft and thoughtful ballads. And with the beautiful “Weary,” his daughter has written a song that it’s easy to imagine him not only loving, but recording. It was one of the show’s highlights.
“If there’s anybody here tonight that’s not here for the purpose of the show, but for some other creepy reason, this one goes out to you,” said Presley with a half laugh when introducing “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” a song that she also unapologetically admitted caused some trouble upon its initial release. Several tracks on “Storm & Grace” were apparently inspired by Presley’s separation from a certain church sometimes associated with Hollywood, and the experience apparently not only provided her with a fiery muse, but also inspired some of her best work. “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” is a fine song and will now always likely be seen as one of Presley’s signature numbers.
The mid-point of the show featured a slightly stripped down acoustic set. Presley, seated on a stool, joked that her songs were mostly “mean, sad or angry” and added that the rhythmic “Soften the Blows” was written at a time when she was “particularly vulnerable.” And while that number seemed to have come from a sad time in her life, clearly “Idiot,” which she also performed, came from a time of anger. Somehow, it all made for an engaging set, and throughout it all, Michael Lockwood, her guitarist, husband, and musical director, spiced each number with just the right touch.
“Lights Out,” a notable track from her debut album from a decade ago, references the Presley family gravesite in the backyard at Graceland and the uneasy feeling that the empty plot sometimes gives her, while “Un-Break,” another gem from “Storm & Grace,” featured Presley on percussion. The set ended with “Sticks and Stones,” to which Presley was met with a standing ovation. Encores included “I’ll Figure It Out” and a cover of Tom Petty’s “I Need to Know.”
“Thank you so much,” said Presley to another ovation. “Thank you, Pennsylvania.”
Lisa Marie Presley is not a pop star. Nor is she a country star. She’s not a jumping jack on stage, nor does she banter as easily with her audience as a certain other Presley that always looked as if he were born for the stage. But she is talented artist who has grown into a style that can be both elegant and edgy. Her music has both soul and purpose, and her concert revealed someone that, musically, seems to have found her footing while also walking in some rather daunting footsteps. Her fans should be happy about that, and her father’s fans should be proud. And when you listen to marvelous and moving songs such as “How Do You Fly This Plane?” and “Forgiving” from her new album, it’s nice to think that somewhere, he is proud, too.
She has chosen her own musical path. It is completely her own. And it’s perfect for her.
September 1994: Michael & Lisa at Disneyland Paris
Lisa Marie Presley, Storm & Grace tour (November 2, 2013)
September 7, 1995: Michael & Lisa arrive separately to the MTV Video Music Awards.
Lindsey Byrnes photo shoot