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Leslie sticks with what works and charms the crowd

A live review of the Charleston rock band's Pour House show

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Leslie, Ponderosa
The Pour House
Feb. 19

Hipsters, rockers, and gaggles of youngsters took over the Pour House for a big birthday bash with power trio Leslie and their friends Ponderosa. One of the Lowcountry's favorite rock stars, singer/guitarist Sadler Vaden, turned 24, and the house was full of friends.

Vaden felt the love, and it was clear the feeling was mutual. "There is nothing on my birthday I'd rather be doing than rockin' with you guys," he said. The reason Vaden is so truly lovable is because he is so genuinely loving — a very special lad, indeed.

Up first was Ponderosa, a scruffy, soulful, Southern rock 'n' roll outfit from Atlanta. They played an impressive set of fuzzy, heartfelt, rootsy tunes that could have brought The Black Crows to the minds of the young and The Faces to the more vintage set. At times, it felt a touch mellow for a rock show, but Ponderosa had their stuff together. They were a good fit for the bill. Singer Kalen Nash could really sing with a nice blend of slightly wounded sincerity, raspiness, and Deep South sounds that found its way to the heart. If the songwriting lacked in the least, their overall vibe, Nash's voice, and bass player Jonathan Hall's tight harmonies more than made up for it.

Excited to be back in front of a hometown crowd, and inspired by their recent recording session at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Leslie hit the stage a little after 11 p.m. In great form as usual, they played a short but solid set of chestnuts and brand-new tunes. The well-rehearsed new numbers had a classic sound, a la Zeppelin, Tom Petty, Big Star, et al.

Leslie has always proudly worn their influences on their sleeve. They also snuck in a few nuggets on the down-low as a treat for the people paying attention, quoting ever so cleverly from "Whole Lotta Love" and "Freebird." The biggest response came from their cover of Sam & Dave's "Hold on I'm Comin'." The high point of Leslie's set was drummer Jonathan Carman's booming kick drum sound; that thing is always dope, but on this night it was sounding show-stealingly sweet. Bassist Jason Fox's mustache gets an honorable mention as well.

Leslie's strengths lie in their on-stage sound and performance more so than the songs themselves. They always look good. They always sound good. They always put on a strong show. And Friday night was no exception.

Leslie's evolving; they're finding their thing more and more. Such is the case when a band loves what it does and is inspired to keep getting better. The writing is sure to mature as they grow, and, hopefully, Fox's backing vocals will be utilized more. Harmonies could help take the good things to another level.

Friday night was gas. Both bands rocked, and there were many a smile on many a face — not the least on the birthday boy himself, who, at one point after rocking himself into a heated, celebratory frenzy, had to cool himself down with a quick dowsing of bottled water. Oh yeah.

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