While most of the East Coast was bracing for a snowstorm that never quite materialized, Alina Baraz and her band turned up the heat at a sold-out show at Washington, D.C.’s Rock and Roll Hotel on a frigid Tuesday night.
Baraz has a smooth, smoky voice that floats between the shimmering notes and drum machine beats crafted by frequent collaborator Galimatias. The pair released the Urban Flora EP in late 2015, and have ridden its Internet fame to a surprising amount of real-world success and name recognition. A young, racially diverse and incredibly stylish audience packed the bottom floor of H Street’s biggest music venue, further proof that a couple of early hits on HypeMachine or YouTube can go a long way in getting fans to step out from behind their computer screens (or smart phones).
With a brand of alternative R&B that a fellow concert-goer described as “sexin’ music” (seriously, the woman standing next to me said that), Baraz never comes across as one-note, despite the limited themes of her releases thus far. She conveys strength and vulnerability equally well, and does a pretty good job at making each song stand out, even when there isn’t much by way of sonic range – they all sound vaguely underwater, hazy, and sultry. It doesn’t hurt that the vocalist can actually sing quite well, and that her band plays the hell out of the low-tempo bedroom beats, infusing each track with energy.
Signs of Baraz’s relative inexperience are still evident in her live performance – in particular in her somewhat nervous stage presence and energy – but she seemed to loosen up as the evening progressed. Baraz was hardly helped by some glitches, and she had to overcome several technical difficulties throughout the night – with sound problems cutting several songs short and forcing the singer to restart tracks a couple of times. Nonetheless, Baraz handled these situations with aplomb and grace, and the audience supported her throughout the night, singing along to every word of an a cappella rendition of “Unfold” that had the crowd swooning.
As if to reward us for our patience, Baraz brought out GoldLink for a guest appearance during the encore. D.C.’s prodigal rapping son performed his version of “Fantasy” (a rework of Baraz’s and Galimatias’ song by the same name); rather curiously, it felt as if half the audience had never even heard his name, and he got a lukewarm reception, at best. But, the truth is that folks came out for Alina Baraz, and for Alina Baraz only – a reflection of the promise and talent this young singer is delivering on already.