LIVE: Lauren Ambrose & the Leisure Class @ Club Helsinki Hudson, 12/29/10

Lauren Ambrose & the Leisure Class brought their old-time traveling show of New Orleans-flavored roots, blues and jazz into Club Helsinki Hudson and played to a full house of appreciative music fans and celebrity curiosity seekers.

Actress/singer Ambrose (“Six Feet Under,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” “Psycho Beach Party”) has a charming stage presence, knock-out good looks and a strong voice that really seemed to take flight in the second set as she and her crack band warmed-up. This was somewhat of a “reunion gig” as they have been apart working on other projects. She is said to be a trained opera singer, although none of that was really shown, but she can definitely hold her own with most torch-style singers with her bluesy, emotional pipes.

The band, made up of members from the Hunger Mountain Boys and the Two Man Gentleman Band, were spot on and very versatile as they made their way through two very enjoyable sets, weaving more traditional roots and jazz numbers with some unexpected tunes from the catalogs of Bob Dylan, Nancy Sinatra and the Libertines (Yes, the UK punk/tabloid legends the Libertines! Was I the only one who caught that one?). The highlight for most of the crowd seemed to be the show closer, “I Love You New York,” in which Ambrose’ voice rose from a gentle whisper to full throttle blues wail.

Club Helsinki, if you have not been there yet, is a beautiful, spacious and great sounding room filled with comfortable seats and a great stage. The club is stepping up as the premier club in the Hudson Valley for roots, folk, bluegrass etc. on both the national and local level.

However… word of advise to the management… put on another bartender on a busy night like this! Constant 10, 15, to 20 minute waits to get a drink is really unacceptable! No exaggeration, it became such a joke, not only to our party but to others, that we started timing it. Constant “I haven’t forgotten about you” and “I will be right with you” (Yeah, 20 minutes later…) from a bartender, who seemed to favor one end of the bar and who was not only serving the bar but catering to all of the waitress ordered table drinks was ridiculous.

One explanation we received was being a Wednesday night they “didn’t expect it to be that busy.” Odd considering when a member of our party called earlier in the day for tickets she was told “standing room only.” Maybe that should have been an indicator, no? A very nice, but powerless bar-back, a pleasant doorman, another nice guy seating people, two waitresses and an owner walking around chatting people up, but no one to jump back and help out serving drinks? I saw three people walk away after never-ending waits for refreshments. That said, in all fairness, I have been there for other less attended shows and have not had to wait as long, but on this busy night… dismal.

On the upside, the fried chicken, mashed potatoes and collard greens I had from their newly opened restaurant during the show was excellent, very tasty (took awhile to order though).

The club has the events lineup, atmosphere and potential for being a top-notch venue, but to be a truly successful nightspot they need to work out the all important third ingredient – service.

Review by Tim Livingston

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