All photos: Katherine Gaines
I was somewhere around northeast on the edge of H Street when the panic began to settle in rapid waves. I remember saying something like “I feel slightly nauseous; I’m still royally hungover from last night in New York, why did I take those combined PBR and bourbon shot deals. . .” And out of nowhere then a horrid screech emitted from outside the glass vitrines encasing me. The yellow cab slid and whirred and slurred to a hissing halt — before then coasting in order to rack up the greatest possible fare — but still jarring the brain despite the air seeping through the cracked windows, toward Red Palace. And a voice underneath the madness grumbled: “Fifteen dollars.”
It was silent once again and I vacated the vehicle after handing the disgruntled driver the crumpled set of bills. My stomach had once again taken off into that series of post- hangover gargles. I hit the pavement and aimed my steps across the street. No point pining for Alka-Seltzer now, I thought. This poor stomach’s rumbles will be mitigated with the sweet lull of reverb guitars soon enough.
Houdini posters and a creaking organ adorned the great mirrored wall behind the bar as I walked in, reflective of the venue’s vaudevillian underpinnings. The managing editors had given me a ticket for the double bill of Tamaryn and Young Prisms, two languid California groups combining elements of noise rock and shoegaze. The only thing that really worried me was the swelling wall of sound. There is nothing in the world more haphazard and moving and emotive than a human plunged in the abyss of a sonic seizure. And I knew I’d get into that fearsomely beautiful stuff fairly soon.
I walked into the upstairs area. Right smack above my head was the sultry songstress from Young Prisms, Stefanie Hodapp, cooing for “More darkness, please.” The murmuring muse was clad in a sleeveless turtleneck, ripped tights and Doc Martens, the early nineties alive and throbbing . . .
Good music comes on slow. The first few moments are all waiting, then about halfway through the third song, once the levels are evened and vocals are appropriately sonorous . . . ZING! Volatile swirls, somber guitars and poignant distortion, who knew that was even a thing . . . a very heady response to a bittersweet genre. The songs careened around the room, thrashing and soft all the same. Too short, too short of a set. But a damn good one at that.
Soon after the lady known as Tamaryn sauntered onto the stage with her band, tambourine in hand, backed by what I recall as visions, tribal prints and particles projected onto the group’s faces, casting sinewy shadows like spiderwebs. Insanity, insanity . . .and meanwhile all alone, standing with a notepad and a blue-blood inked pen next to the merch table.
The room was very loud, with the rhythmic precision of jazz percussion carrying the alluring trip we were on, Cocteau Twins vibes resounding through the gossamer echoes of Tamaryn, herself draped in gauzy black fabric. Soon after things began materializing into their forms, nymphs and demons round n’ round the room. . . Man! Did I really say that, or did I just think it? Was I speaking out loud?
I had descended the Megabus from Manhattan two hours before, half-broken in spirit and stomach. But I thought, how often does a chance like this come around? To experience the sonic tales of two immensely talented groups of musicians, rare in retaining a dual sensibility for seminal roots and a pair of veiled eyes cast directly into an uncertain future. Old bands wander off to the manicured edges of the NoVa suburbs to die; new bands go out to the H or U Street corridors and live themselves to death with an excess of feeling.
Maybe it really does mean something. Or maybe not, looking ahead. . . but nothing quite replicates that uncanny sense of immediacy, being present and reckless in that particular instance of a live music experience. That night, there was the mesmerizing sound of confusion bursting at any second, in every direction. If not from the reverb-laced guitars, then up to the hi-hat or down the line leading to the bass amplifier or Tamaryn herself, the doppelganger of Twin Peaks’ Jolee Cruise, the cherry-lipsticked siren from The Roadhouse stage. Floating in blue, crashing directly into the salty waves, a binding unity reverberated throughout the wood-paneled room — the sense that music, despite Spotify regurgitations of Top 40 bullshit, still has that astounding, transformative ability to sway you.
Tamaryn and the band retreated from a roaring crowd for a brief encore, merely to replenish their cocktails. Inviting the audience to ride “The Waves”, at that moment every cross-armed beardo and chest piece-clad vixen waded into the breaking tide together, ascending to the peak of a lofty, rhythmic wave. . .
Now, less than a year after their respective releases, you can turn up Tender New Signs or In Between on your Metro commute to work, as loudly as your headphones will allow. And with the right kind of ears you can hear those hypnotic waves of sound — oscillating into that place where shoegaze finally rose from a faded memory of the ‘90s, exhaling with shimmering sighs into today.