It was an evening of Americana vocals, new wave, ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll and flying hair. In her group’s first headlining tour, Lauren Ruth Ward and her band brought her indie rock queen vibes to San Francisco’s The Chapel on Friday night.
A groovy crowd of Bay Area listeners welcomed the Los Angeles-based group. Ward drew from the audience’s energy throughout the night while also imbuing the mass with her own electrified energy. “You guys win for crowd participation,” the vocalist laughed at one point.
This energy shined through in the chemistry among the band members, a chemistry equal parts organic and genuine in the way that it showcased the singer’s relationships as she danced alongside each member. In watching them watch each other, the crowd could tell the musicians were in tune and attentive to each other — they made constant eye contact and vibed together onstage.
The stage presence of the band was largely thanks to the constant movement of its lead singer. Ward often looked directly into the phone cameras of her fans as if singing to them individually as she ran across the stage.
Ward’s tour follows her recent album, Well, Hell, released in February. It was Ward and the band’s first full-length album, and the band members’ live performance impressively matched the production quality of the recorded work. Staying true to its style of raw, powerful bass lines and crafted vibrato vocals, Ward’s group hides nothing in its sound between its records and live shows.
The group performed “Blue Collar Sex Kitten,” a single from the new record, with animalistic passion. The high-energy dynamics in Ward’s voice always matched her dancing, and the band, while straight-faced, brought its energy in its pitch-perfect, emotive playing.
“Did I Offend You?” off the new record was full of energy and attitude. The singer quite literally ran with the song with animated jogging movements — and commendable vocal runs — as she sang that she’s “running with the masses.” Ward’s commanding sensuality in her movements and vocal inflections extended beyond gags, slowing down to reflect her music’s more vulnerable aspects.
Ward also performed the album’s title track, which possesses more heavy guitar strums and aggressive melodies than the other songs on the record. The fast lyrics are enough to leave the singer breathless, but in a way that only adds to the grunge and messiness of the track.
The vocalist has evolved significantly since 2016’s Lauren Ruth Ward EP. Her older tracks hold a more folky, soft tone compared to her new faster, grittier sound. Ward’s artistic growth between the two compilations is exemplified by the new album’s more dynamic instrumentals and Ward’s own expanded, more experimental vocal range on display.
Yet she did not depart entirely from her roots. Ward sang “Scorpio Season,” an older demo that she dedicated to the Scorpio fans in the crowd. The singer is known for recognizing the star signs of people she comes into contact with, often mentioning her friends’ zodiac signs when posting on social media.
Ward owns her hippie-soul style, and she did not disappoint with her onstage attire. Sporting rainbow-patterned pants held by a bold white belt, a green sports bra, a sheer polka-dot neck scarf and her signature rainbow bangs, the singer’s unparalleled, bold look demonstrated that she often stands out in a crowd, even when she’s not performing on a stage.
Ward went out with a crowd-pleasing trip into the audience, getting up close and personal with her fans. The sweet softness of her personality made for an entertaining renegade of a frontwoman, one wholly dedicated to putting on a good show.
Behind the antique charm of the musicians, the tall backdrop of tied scarves and the singer’s fire-starter attitude, the emerging Lauren Ruth Ward, a new artist in an old genre, made San Francisco feel like a haven for ‘70s rock once more.