Words By Jose Lopez-Sanchez, Photos By Maya Moore
There’s room for all of us on Dev Hynes’ stage.
Hynes, best known to casual listeners and fans as Blood Orange, is one of the pre-eminent tastemakers in contemporary indie R&B/rock; a well-earned status product of his years and years crafting incredibly catchy, nuanced – and surprisingly deep – pop songs, for himself and others. The London native gave a forceful, moving performance for a near-capacity audience at Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Theatre last night, incorporating elements of spoken word and slam poetry, gender fluidity, funky guitar chops, and honest-to-god sexiness over a ninety minute set.
Hynes has been producing music for himself and others since 2005, but 2013’s Cupid Deluxe was the album that put him on the map as a bandleader. That record’s success gave Hynes a considerable platform, and it’s apparent that he does not take this opportunity, and the responsibility that comes with it, lightly. Flanked by a six piece backing band and three interpretive dancers, Hynes was lithe and nimble across the stage as he performed the majority of his latest release, Freetown Sound. As he alternated between dancing and playing the guitar or the keys, Hynes channeled Prince, early 90s Michael Jackson, and Grace Jones – incredibly talented artists who straddled (and crossed) the boundaries of androgyny and heteronormativity.
While Hynes has always been a humanist, it wasn’t until this year’s Freetown Sound that he was able to fully harness the depth of his talents to produce an album that feels much bigger than just his slice of New York City. Even in the live performance of the record, it is evident that Hynes has matured considerably as an artist in the intervening years, expanding the scope of his songwriting from the deeply personal and intimate to a conscious effort to grapple with systemic oppression and injustice.
The stage was beautifully set, using lighting and shadows to augment the message of Hynes’ songs, and the entire experience was elevated by the trio of dancers, whose movements blurred the lines between classical ballet, West African dance, and vogueing – perfect imperfect representations of the intersectionality entrenched in the latest Blood Orange record. Unfortunately, the sound for some of the songs lower in Hynes’ register was a little quiet – a real shame, because those are usually the moments where Hynes’ lyrics are at their deepest and most poignant, like at the beginning of “Augustine”. You could barely hear Hynes relating the parallels between his parents’ journeys from their native countries to London and his move to New York close to a decade ago, as the instruments drowned out his voice.
All in all, it was a fantastic performance by an artist that found himself at a personal and professional crossroads, and decided that he would break down the barriers instead. Hynes may not speak for all of us, but he is more than willing to give a voice and platform to those who need it.