It was two days into his return to Indiana, and already Jon McLaughlin was griping about the weather.
Yep, the surging pop star was home.
McLaughlin, whose major-label debut, Indiana, has garnered him national attention this year, performed in front of an adoring audience Oct. 10 in the Murat Egyptian Room, a large contingent of which traveled from his native Anderson.
While McLaughlin has expressed nervousness playing in front of hometown crowds before, he seemed well within his element here. He approached his electric Yamaha piano like a less-caffeinated Muppet. Treating it like a shrine, he bowed over it, sometimes studied it like he was doing needlework, even kneeled before it during his 45-minute set of sauntering, searing piano-pop. Extended runs at the beginning of “People” and the end of “Human” cemented McLaughlin’s status as a performance-level rebirth of Jerry Lee Lewis. The breathy soul of his vocals, reaching a Stevie Wonder high on the elegant “Beautiful Disaster,” completed the impressive package.
McLaughlin ended his set with a solo performance of the title track to Indiana. Quite confessional and almost hymn-like, it’s bound to become his signature tune — akin to John Mellencamp’s “Small Town.” It’s probably well received anywhere McLaughlin plays it. Here, it obviously took on special meaning.
Though it was a homecoming for McLaughlin, European upstart Paolo Nutini was the headliner. His stoned immaculacy jibed beautifully with McLaughlin’s confident ease. With his scruffy, hermetic vocal style and inward manner, Nutini seems like a Dylan in training, though he became a Judas from the outset by incorporating electricity into his rootsy shamble. Angelic acoustic numbers, island grooves and even a coffeehouse calm made Nutini’s set an eclectic occasion.
Serena Ryder opened the show with a style of folk straight out of the Tenacious D school of acoustic rock. Her guitar doubled as a percussive instrument, while her voice offered echoes of a youthful Marianne Faithful, with a raspy, show-stopping wail on par with Melissa Etheridge. When she wasn’t getting marriage proposals, she was singing lines like “I believe in love, and all it’s said to say” with nary a doubt.