Sometimes, a totally random and seemingly insignificant thing leads to something monumental. In December of ’08, I took my sister to a OneRepublic concert for her birthday and consequently fell in love with a band I’d never before heard of, a relatively little-known, indie band called Augustana. At the time, they’d had one reasonably popular hit, Boston, and had just released their second album. That weekend, I went to Best Buy and bought two copies of each of their albums, one set for me and one for my sister, also an immediate fan.
The thing about Augustana that set them so very far apart from other bands was their mesmerizing performance on stage. The music is good, catchy without being trite, deep but never pretentious. But watching them pour their fucking souls into each and every song is what makes them stellar. So when I’d heard a few months ago that several of the members left Augustana and had been replaced, I became afraid. Would these new guys have the same intensity? The same chemistry with lead singer and last remaining original member, Dan Layus? Would they keep touring and would their shows continue to blow my mind? A couple of weeks ago, my sister and I had the pleasure of seeing them perform live at a small venue outside of Pittsburgh, and Augustana answered each of those questions with a resounding YES.
To watch Dan Layus sing Augustana’s songs, all of which he writes himself, is to experience the emotions behind those songs with him. With each performance, he appears to revert right back to the place he inhabited while writing them, making the experience of seeing him perform all the richer, and the songs themselves all the more poignant.
There are so many tracks I love (too many to list here) but if I had to pick one favorite, it would be Dust. This song resonates with me like few others ever have and seeing it played live is an experience I’ll never tire of. The song is intense and moving all by itself, but add to that Dan’s energy and added lyrics and the raw emotion he brings to every performance and the end result is something truly thrilling.
Dan’s song lyrics paint a fairly vivid picture of the experiences and emotions that inspire them, something even more deeply felt when watching him sing, and his growth as a musician, as a writer and as a man are apparent from one album to the next, which causes me, a fan who has followed them for a few years now, to feel as though I’ve gone on their journey right along with them. Their debut album, Stars and Boulevards, was clearly written by a young man in search of his place in the world, in search of his own identity, something everyone in early adulthood has experienced. Talk of love and lust and partying and the need to connect with someone fill the lyrics. By their 2nd album, Dan had married and become a father and seemed to be struggling to find a balance between these new roles and his musical career. Either Way, I’ll Break Your Heart Someday is a perfect example. “Cheap perfume/ Oh it never lies/ And I can’t supply/ Any good alibis” gives a clear picture of the conflict he felt out on the road. One of my favorite songs and a song that nearly makes me cry when seeing it played live is Twenty Years: “Take your woman by the hand/ Leave her there with your things on the doorstep…Could this be our last dance/ Fall asleep with the TV darling/ I’ll be back again.”
Their 3rd album finds Dan a year sober and much more settled in both his personal and professional lives. Mostly, he writes about his marriage and the love he has for his wife, how the ups and downs between them has shaped the man he has become. “Sometimes in life you meet the people that you think you trust/ Wake up one day and find that everything had turned to dust/ I always knew that you’d be waiting for me when I got back” (from Shot In The Dark) is just one illustration of the confidence Dan now seems to have in himself. His growth as a singer/songwriter is showcased in this album as well, with influences from Bob Dylan and Tom Petty strongly apparent.
After the concert, I met Dan and briefly talked with him about his upcoming projects, including a live album in addition to Augustana’s 4th album, due out next year. I’m anxious to embark on the next phase with him, and if their newest song, Alive, which they played for us at the last show, is any indication of what lies ahead, I’m ready to go another round.