Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe perform with Lucius at Royale on Tuesday.
Lucius would have been perfect for this week’s star-studded David Bowie tribute at Carnegie Hall in New York. But the band’s busy honing its own distinct sound and vision on tour, as Lucius’ ever-matchy duo of Berklee-bred singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig took to the stage of Royale on Tuesday in flowy green capes and poufy reddish mohawks that sort of suggested Ziggy Stardust in duplicate, with gender flipped.
Duality doesn’t always click for Lucius, however, at least in its direction behind its second album, Good Grief. The group’s 2013 debut Wildewoman was one of that year’s best albums, recasting girl-group vocals through dusky, minimalist indie-rock. Good Grief hits some bolder highs but isn’t as consistently successful, seeming a bit forced as Lucius pushes toward the bankable sound of programmed drums as well as punched-up vocals.
While that could be promising as Lucius moves into larger venues, it didn’t work at first at Royale when Dan Molad’s mostly acoustic standup drum kit flattened out in the sound mix with the guitars of Pete Lalish and Andrew Burri and the lead vocals and sporadic keyboards of Wolfe and Laessig. In turn, the band’s performances initially came off as too deliberate, down to the symmetry of the co-singers moving together from one stage wing to the other to get around their central keyboard rigs. The singers’ face-to-face synths tended to visually obscure Lalish, the group’s most intriguing instrumentalist, particularly when he injected spooky slide for “Go Home” — or provided a sonic tether to the four other members diverting into tribal percussion bursts.
However, Lucius loosened up and grew more dynamic around the middle of its 95-minute set, especially after the three male instrumentalists engaged in a noisy, ambient jam during a costume change (to black over emerald green) for the singers. The quintet even paired the new album’s outwardly commercial “Something About You” (more organically than the ABBA-esque electro-pop on record) with “Nothing Ordinary,” a more experimental oldie that evokes early ’80s Kate Bush. And they nailed extremes in two other new songs, the near a cappella “Dusty Trails” (showing how Wolfe and Laessig dazzle at a single microphone in a folk-sparse setting) and the deserving hit “Born Again Teen,” the singers mixing coy pop cooing with joyful banshee-wide chants.
After Wolfe and Laessig dealt a haunting take on Elvis Presley favorite “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (in three-part harmony with Sarah Versprille of opener Pure Bathing Culture), the soldout crowd joined in chanting along to the cathartic build of “How Loud Your Heart Gets.” And you could take that to the arena as well as the club.