List Marie Presley at the House of Blues, August 2003

Daily Herald Music Critic

By the time a singer plays the House of Blues, he or she has usually slugged it out in the bottom-feeder circuit of venues including neighborhood bars, honkytonks and VFW halls. Lisa Marie Presley is in the awkward situation of learning the ropes while already a star.

Making her Chicago debut Friday while opening for Chris Isaak, Presley struggled through a rough eight-song, 45-minute set that, if it weren’t for her pedigree, would have sent her back to the minors.

To be fair, the bar has been set high. Not only is Presley entering a singing career from under the shadow of her father, rock’s most famous architect, she is also battling her own public image as tabloid trouble. Learning your chops at 35 – an age considered irrelevant by music industry standards – can’t help either.

If Presley can be commended for anything at this stage in her life, it’s bravery and perseverance. Since the release of her debut album last spring, she has worked diligently to gain stage experience, if always in the public eye.

The reviews have not been glowing for her work-in-progress appearances in small clubs and at state fairs, but she is showing no signs of letting up.

Late next month she returns to the House of Blues as a headliner for the first time in her career. And the pressure is on: at press time, about 500 tickets were sold Friday (almost half the club capacity), the same day they became available.

Presley arrived armed with a six-member band (including keyboardist Linda Good, formerly of the Chicago sister band The Twigs). Presley sang with muscle, her tough voice occasionally enhanced by her soundman. Her set lacked polish, although it did have its moments. “Lights Out,” a pop-rock song about her roots in Memphis, and “Gone,” a recent power ballad, allowed Presley to mine the depth of her powerful voice.

Her pacing remained awkward the entire night, with endless ear monitor difficulty and rambling dialogue with her sound crew. Presley’s choice of a cover – George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently weeps” – resulted in flubbed lyrics and general ambivalence.

Her diligence is also her charm, however. Unlike many current divas, Presley has a story to tell and has a sense of humor about herself that is promising for the future. “I’m just the opening act,” she told the crowd. “I do welcome comments, but that could be dangerous.”

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