If there’s one thing that sets great cover bands apart from their less-gifted counterparts, it’s whether or not the singers can, well, sing.
Fortunately for Lenina Crowne, the vocalists — Eric Faust (lead vocals) and Blake Gifford (singer-songwriter) — more than proved their worth tonight in this indie-folk-rock band’s first ever performance at THON.
While the band itself may be one of Penn State’s newest, they looked and sounded like professionals throughout the entire set, evidenced by an enthusiastic Jordan Center crowd that was engaged from the very start of their performance through Faust’s closing remarks. In fact, after listening to such clean, synchronized cuts of some of the most well-known songs on the planet (and three originals), I would have guessed they had been playing venues of this size for years.
They started with a rendition of the popular The Killers record, “All The Things I’ve Done,” embracing the colorful audience of volunteers from the very beginning — no more than a minute into the song, the band had the entire arena harmonizing the lyrics, “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier.”
Next came the Penn State-favorite, “Sweet Caroline,” and this time the crowd wasn’t just singing, but swaying in unison in a scene that resembled a toned-down rendition of the student section at a home football game. The vocal breaks in the song were beautifully filled with jazzy solos from the band’s resident saxophonist, Nick Rudenko, while the rest of the band provided the kind of support you would expect when a major act stops through the happiest of valleys on its national tour. By the end of the song, all sounds halted just in time for the crowd to chime in with a collective, “SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD!,” culminating in an eruption of cheers.
The group — which consists of eight members — then moved on to an obscure, mature-sounding original cut, followed by near-flawless takes on Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So,” Third Eye Blind’s “Jumper,” and the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout,” all of which further highlighted the symbiotic relationship between the Faust/Gifford vocals and Rudenko’s saxophone.
Just when the crowd thought it couldn’t get any better, Faust burst into a harmonica solo to the tune of Billy Joel’s classic and ever-recognizable “Piano Man” and proceeded to engineer his voice to sound — strangely — much like the legend himself.
More than anything else, throughout the entire performance, you could see and feel Lenina Crowne enjoying the interaction with the audience as much as the audience enjoyed interacting with Lenina Crowne. From start to finish, the juxtaposition of vocal harmonies with well-organized instrumentation was impressive to say the least, especially for a young cover band.
For the latter part of the set, the crowd was provided a few more classics in Modest Mouse’s “Float On” and the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” and the band finally ended “With a Little Help From [It’s] Friends” — literally, as it set its performance on the Four Diamonds stage to rest with another Beatles’ classic in the company of a group of THON children.
One thing is for certain — this may have been Lenina Crowne’s first audition for the volunteers, supporters, and dancers of the world’s largest student-run philanthropy, but after a performance like that, it certainly won’t be their last.