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Far from sunny Los Angeles where he usually resides, Paul Adelstein, of the band Doris, found himself in WERS’s studio for 2013’s Live Music Week. The spectacled, scruffy Adelstein alternated between the piano and acoustic guitar as he warmed up, focused and calm, casually belting out bits and pieces of his catalogue of songs. Completely at ease, it seemed that Adelstein was a veteran performer, which he is—but not just with music. An accomplished actor, he is known for his major roles on both Private Practice and Prison Break, but he proved that his music skills are something to be equally admired.
Performing a solo set WERS, Adelstein settled at the piano bench and opened with “Ladybug Luck,” from Doris’ All The Details. It’s a bluesy, energetic track where the soulfulness of Adelstein’s vocals are highlighted. As he sang, “Tried so hard to help you/but your wings just came off,” it initially sounded like it could be about a love gone wrong, a break up, trying to help a lost cause human being—you know, the typical subject matter of most songs nowadays.
Well, it wasn’t. It was about what the song title suggested: a ladybug and the tragedy of accidentally smashing it. Yes, the actual tragedy. The aftermath of the event, of being cursed, the feeling of guilt for crushing something so innocent and helpless when you’re just trying to help—he has the ability to make the audience feel these big emotions about an event so small, which is a true talent. Adelstein didn’t sing about things that are obviously sad. Instead, he discovered the underlying emotion in the seemingly mundane. It’s impressive that he has the ability to create music this smart with this much punch while still finding the time to act.
“I don’t remember not doing either,” Adelstein said when asked if he identified more as a musician or an actor. “Acting is interpretive… Acting, you’re doing somebody else’s bidding, which is a relief, to a certain degree, because you’ve got your good work, but you don’t bear responsibility for the entire enterprise. Music can sometimes be more daunting, because of the personal nature of that stuff. But in a good way, too. It’s also rewarding on that level.”
Paul Adelstein revealed the wide repertoire of styles under his belt. Following “Ladybug Luck,” Adelstein slung his acoustic guitar over his shoulder and launched into “Mr. Baxter,” another track from Doris’ All The Details with a radically different sound. A catchy, fast-paced track that, paired with Adelstein’s style of singing, (“Do you wish I was more curious/That you haven’t been around?”) it had a somewhat ‘90s feel to it, promising to get stuck in listener’s ears.
For his final song, Adelstein performed “Commencement,” a song with teeth, also on the guitar. Recalling the bluesy quality of “Ladybug Luck,” this song had a slightly darker tone to it at as it lashed out at the pretentions of self-centered and ignorant college students—but still in a charming, likeable way. He directly addressed the “graduate scum,” singing, “If you don’t know who the sucker is/The sucker must be you,” and called them out for “knowing next to nothing as your cap comes down.” The sharp intensity of the lyrics in this track gave the set an edge but it didn’t become overbearing. Instead, it was a welcome dose of unapologetic honesty.
As audiences of WERS undoubtedly (and happily) discovered of Paul Adelstein, his lyrics are smart, sharp-witted, and have a degree of playfulness, which puts a fresh spin on his tunes. Although Adelstein’s band, Doris, has only two LPs out, he is hoping to further the band’s exposure, ideally with a tour at some point in the near future. He is a dedicated musician and listeners can expect to hear more from Adelstein. More information on their music is available at dorismusic.net