Concert Review: A Night of Queens and Houses at DC9

Image courtesy of the official Houses Facebook page.
Image courtesy of the official Houses Facebook page.

“So guys, um, who saw the president’s speech on Syria?”

While certainly not a typical point of conversation for any other show, this was how Jamaican Queens introduced themselves to the audience at DC9 on September 10th. Between swigs of beer and engaging in conversation with the intimate 30-person audience, Jamaican Queens wowed the crowd with their energy and distinct sound. Self-described members of the “Detroit trap-pop” genre and defined by the International Film Channel as a mixture of “Grizzly Bear and Young Jeezy,” this heavily hip-hop and rock-influenced band played a six-track set with definite blues hues, including both older and newer tracks from their most recent album, Wormfoot, released in early 2013. Borrowing from influences such as “dance hall and sad pop songs, especially from The Smiths, Blur, and Gorillaz,” Jamaican Queens engaged in a set that sounded as familiar as it did unique.

Kicking off the show with “Can’t Say No to Annie,” lead singer Ryan Spencer’s deep, scratchy voice pulsed over a heavy percussion beat, leading audience members in head bopping to a catchy chorus that lamented a man’s inability to “say no” to Annie despite “causing her pain.” Audience members sang along to the song, clearly longtime followers of this unsigned band. A clear highlight of the show was when Jamaican Queens led their intro of “Asleep at the Wheel,” which had a sound that departed from their usually upbeat, frenetic pace. Ryan’s voice drawled over an unpredictable drum beat, the light harmonies complementing his strong, determined voice. As he sang “you’re mine” in a higher pitch, both the audience and the band threw their bodies into the music, believing that yes, he was “okay” and he didn’t need his former love to save him. Closing with “Caitlin,” Jamaican Queens ended their set with the sounds of a desperate man trying to comfort his friend and relate to a personal tragedy. With the sounds of purposeful desperation lingering in the air, the audience was left feeling both grim and inspired.

In contrast, ten minutes later, Houses quietly stepped on the stage without an introduction or any acknowledgement from the audience. It was just a boy, a girl, their guitarist, and some electronic equipment adorned with tea-lights. The lights in the room changed from a bright blue to a deep red as the sounds of an ambient synth vibrated the air and more people filled the room, coming downstairs from the rooftop bar.

The opening song, “The Bloom,” was an instrumental and hypnotizing five minutes of varying chill melodies. It was a perfect preface for what Houses had in store for the anticipating audience. Their sound was a somber but beautiful adaptation of Beach House and their new album, “A Quiet Darkness,” was recorded in numerous locations, giving the album character. These dreamy recording locations included a self-sustaining farm in Hawaii and desert areas in California. The story behind the album portrays a post-apocalyptic world with two lovers trying to find each other, a tale that is emphasized gloriously in their music video for “The Beauty Surrounds.”

As Houses progressed through their show, an unseen entity overtook the audience as everyone slowly began to sway to the enchanting sounds surrounding them. However, this was only the beginning to the end. DC9 proved a perfect venue for Houses, especially when they chose to perform an acoustic song as an encore. The guitarist left the stage as the lead singer, Dexter Tortoriello, softly explained that “This is a song I wrote for Megan [Messina, the female vocalist,] when we first got together.” The song was unreleased, but Dexter explained that he found DC9’s intimate venue the perfect place to showcase such an emotional song. Beside him, audience members saw Megan step away from the electronic equipment, taking deep breaths to compose herself in order to properly sing. As the song began, with the words of a lover describing his undying love for his other half flowing through the air, the audience stood still in a room that seemed to shrink as they took in the emotional moment. It was a fitting song to end a quietly beautiful set–a song that would have been impossible to express without DC9’s cozy stage.

Tiffany Ismael & Audrey Lee

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