LIVE AT THE COPPERTOP
By Scott McLennan
The image of the dude with an acoustic guitar sleepwalking one more time through “Margaritaville” isn’t just a nightmare for the après ski devotee, but also disturbing to guys like Sean Fullerton and Ryan LaPerle _ dudes with acoustic guitars stuck combating that negative stereotype.
Fullerton_ a Coppertop regular for several years now_ and LaPerle_ who makes his Wachusett debut Sunday_ are solo artists who pride themselves on engaging crowds with blends of original music and inspired covers.
In Fullerton’s case, his musical journey started with a fascination with the Beatles and has wended its way over the past 16 years into the blues. His shows now embrace both of those influences as well as a bunch of stuff in between.
“For any performer, you have to connect with the audience and the best way to do that is to connect with the music you’re playing,” Fullerton said.
When Fullerton turned to the blues, the move was similar to that of the casual fan who starts finding out that Led Zeppelin’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” and the Rolling Stones’s “Love in Vain” are actually songs by Delta bluesman Robert Johnson and date back to the 1930s. The more he dug, the more Fullerton learned, and the process became a regeneration of sorts.
“When I felt stagnant I didn’t want a radical change, but I did want something that moved me maybe half-way from where I was,” Fullerton said.
His balancing act let him introduce the slide-guitar tones of Dobro and the gritty sound of amplified harmonica into his shows. He hasn’t abandoned staples from the Beatles or soulful singalongs such as “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” but now alongside them adds doses of Muddy Waters, Big Boy Crudup, and Johnson. The performance package earned Fullerton “Best Solo Artist” honors in last year’s Worcester Music Awards.
As he works on new original material, Fullerton said he is seeing how he can combine the emotional heft of the blues with the catchiness of melodies and harmonies he has gleaned from Beatles and Beach Boys records.
“I’m experimenting,” he said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
But at the very least, you don’t hear Fullerton saying he feels stagnant. Catch his act at 8 p.m. Thursday.
Barring another blown car engine, which scotched his first scheduled Wachusett appearance in January, LaPerle will be at the Coppertop at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
LaPerle grew up in New Hampshire and now resides in Cambridge, MA, where a thriving folk-pop scene keeps him busy.
“I still have have very New Hampshire roots within me. I love the feel of being out in the open. It was a big transition going from the 603 to the 617. It’s a different feel, a different lifestyle,” LaPerle said.
With two CDs under his belt and a trip to the South By Southwest music conference in Austin last year LaPerle has carved out a place for his finely woven and detailed tunes. He is currently prepping for a third album, having stockpiled songs over the last year and a half. And, having done his fair share of solo gigs jammed amid bands, LaPerle is looking to hire a bass player and drummer whom share his acoustic-pop vision (interested parties are welcome to apply).
“Before I used to think I had to write a whole song in one sitting or it wouldn’t work,” LaPerle explained. “Now I am not afraid to work on a melody. Put it down. Work on some verses, and come back, come back, come back. I’ve learned I can bring the moment.”
LaPerle also said his new songs are drifting from stock themes (falling in and out of love) and focusing more on textures and word play that can evoke different moods and interpretations among different listeners.
“Love is easy,” he joked. At least for a songwriter.
In between Fullerton and LaPerle, the Coppertop has return visits by The Wandas at 8 p.m. Friday and Brian and Captain, same time on Saturday.
Scott McLennan wrote about music for The Worcester Telegram & Gazette for 15 years and is now a music correspondent for The Boston Globe. His column on Coppertop happenings updates here each Wednesday, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org