LiLa gives us One More Song

photo by Jessica Arden

On Saturday, July 11th… LiLa will be on the stage at The Pinhook.

It is no secret that I am fan and a friend of LiLa. Rather than tell you that story, I am going to tell you the story of the evolution of my favorite LiLa song, with the aid of some other music interlocutors.

I think it was the same for all early LiLa fans. It started with “Out with Bang.”

J-La and Eli meeting up in Trinity Park and running all over our gritty city.

“Life is a round trip ticket… I got to bet on my luck… To realities that are hopeful… The world can’t be beat.”

In the video they take the chorus, “Don’t stop moving,” to heart. On the stage it is the same, the band LiLa doesn’t stop moving, the fervent energy reverberating from fast-talking MC, Eli McDuffie, to often shirtless, Griffin Wade, stolid and powerful behind the drums, relentlessly setting the pace.

The tour they take us on through Durham is almost nostalgic now. Noting the differences is a reminder of the pace of change that matches the song’s metaphorical message.

I didn’t have to go far to find my new favorite LiLa song. “Group Therapy” is literally the next track on the album.

I could tell you the sweet sounding tale that I was lured by the beautiful video, but the dirty reality is more likely in the endless looping that some obsessives engage in, I probably heard, “Group Therapy” a third of the times I was replaying “Out with a Bang” ad infinitum.

When transcribing the lyrics to LiLa II, sometimes my favorite part in a song would change as I would appreciate the nuance. That was not true for “Group Therapy.” The delicate chorus was and remains close to my mortal soul,

“When the solitary life has given you all it can—

And you’re too afraid to note if you are your only friend,—

There is always strength in numbers, letters, and soundwaves too.—

Hope that you don’t mind that we wrote this song for you.”

It is haunting and empathetic at the same time. Those two ideas are near the core purpose of Art, haunt us, challenge us, dare us to believe, scare us with the dark sides of our selves. And the please remember us too. We are your fellow humans beings. The reason we get, we feel, we need, we receive your Art is because we know your pain and suffering.

Bands are like relationships. And Life’s a love affair. Don’t be a wallflower. It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I look at the LiLa guys huddling up pre-show off-stage in the video above and feel their love.

It isn’t too hard to feel the Durham love in the next song. It was shot in the Durham School of the Arts, naturally given the multiple alums in the band, including not only Griffin, but also guitarist, Kyle Cox, trombonist, Michael Peterson, and lead singer, keyboardist, guitarist, Jon LeSueur.

This time I did fall in love with video. I mean, who wouldn’t? Want to know the polyglot that is Durham? Look at the students in the opening shot on campus. Sara Stephens is marvelously believable as the teacher, Duncan Webster is naturally the principal, and the DSA kids with cameos are inspiringly on point. I wouldn’t doubt some of them are already in bands of their own. (Durham’s future appears kick ass from here.)

McDuffie and LeSueur look barely old enough to be out of high school, whereas the rest of the band plays the video’s grown-ups in something of a mimicry of their real life realities.

The band is filled with music professionals who have earned their chops. RoSean Alexander on bass has toured nationally with Erik Smallwood. Peterson with Reptar. Cox has recorded with David Adam Monroe. Wade is the beat and the backbone which supports it all. LeSueur’s melodic piano playing is gorgeous. This core musical talent allows McDuffie, the brilliant lyricist, to get away with being the bacchanalian whirling dervish.

Why do we love bands? Why do we spend our time thinking of anyone? We think about bands for some of the same reasons with think about those we those we are attracted to. We are needy. We want to be felt, gotten, understood, received. In our atomized selves, in a world bereft of public ritual, we worry that no one us will ever be with us inside our heads. We sense music transcends the limits set by the Tower of Babble.

The next song, “Woods to the Hood” I didn’t discover through the video, but rather at LiLa’s live shows, their stage energy is magnificent, although some songs translate better than others. This one rocks both ways. I am a sucker for the guitar riff at the end.

I never picked a favorite song on the fourth album. Time has a way of doing that, entropy and inertia cause things to drift. If you don’t work at something… over time things left to their own devices don’t do, they undo, except maybe rabbits.

I was still deeply immersed in LiLa II while the band was playing LiLa IV everywhere from Shakori Hills Festival to Fayetteville Street on 4th of July in Raleigh. I danced my ass off whenever I caught the boys live, like the Christmas shows at MotorCo.

They made great, funny, promo videos.

But what’s Ferris say?

“Life moves pretty fast.”

Suddenly, “Out with a Bang” is four years ago. Life and Durham look pretty different, but much the same. I look outward through my eyes and inward at myself, and in both cases, only I see what I see. A writer asked me to bring her a song tomorrow. I was thinking about this one.

LiLa, like all great artists, gets but also lives those sentiments.

Que Sera Sera” is not entirely fatalistic. Reality delicately blends whatever will be, will be with life is what you make it. As Eli McDuffie once reminded me, holding a delicate flower too tightly crushes it. Let go and enjoy.

I recommend you and the band do the same tomorrow at The Pinhook.

This is not an epitaph. Who knows what’s next for LiLa? But that’s true for any of us, daily. Since I have been a Lila fan, I have witnessed terrible tragedies and amazing joys, and every range of emotion in between. When it all becomes a little too much, I like to “let my mind get lost in a musical drift.”

“I got the Flow” became my new favorite LiLa song alone in my writing office.

Aaron Mandel

Aaron Mandel is a writer and an accomplished public speaker. He is the publisher of the Clarion Content. For more than a decade, the Clarion Content has covered Durham’s arts, politics, music, and cultural milieu. From breaking news stories to the hottest local acts, the Clarion Content is on the scene. The Clarion Content published more than twenty distinguished guest columnists and garnered nearly a million views. Mandel is a volunteer for the Durham Mighty Pen Literacy Project and serves as the President of the Board of Sustain-A-Bull Durham, a local small business collective with more than 200 members. He writes regularly on the Clarion Content and has been quietly writing fiction since the 4th grade. Mandel has been published in the Raleigh News and Observer. He has also produced numerous art shows, including, “Durham under Development”. He was a featured speaker at “The State of Publishing” conference. He has presented to Durham Chamber of Commerce, “Chamber U” on the “New Media”. He has also served as the play-by-play announcer for the D.B.L., a Durham youth basketball league. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Religious Studies from Indiana University in Bloomington. An avid policy debater at Indiana and a Nation Debate Tournament qualifier, Mandel was also a member of the New Jersey State Champion two-person Policy Debate Team. He has lived in North Carolina, New Jersey, California, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, Indiana, and Baja California, Mexico.

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