At a time when being brown, queer, or an immigrant are under attack, Friday night’s Blood Orange show at the Lincoln Theatre was precisely the salve DC audiences needed. A capacity audience sang, danced, cheered, and cried as Devonté Hynes – flanked by vocalists Ian Isiah and Eva Tolkin, as well as a 5-piece band – played the entirety of Negro Swan as well as select hits from years gone by.
Despite the adulation, Dev Hynes recognizes he isn’t perfect, nor does he need to be. The English-born guitarist, producer, and multi-hyphenate talent lays his emotions and shortcomings to bare for his audiences to see in a way that is both wrenching and incredibly compelling. That vulnerability – paired with his undeniable talent and unapologetic blackness – has propelled him firmly into the spotlight, and made this adopted New Yorker a cult figure.
It helps that Hynes retains a producer’s knack for using his abilities to elevate and empower the voices of others. Stretching back over his last three records – the aforementioned Negro Swan released earlier this summer, 2016’s Freetown Sound, and 2014’s Cupid Deluxe – Hynes has painted a robust, multi-faceted portrait of blackness and queerness, as well as the resilience that comes from being labelled as an “other” for most of your life. That he has managed to achieve this mainly by ceding the spotlight to collaborators and featured artists isn’t lost on us, and this translates quite directly to the live show. Tolkin and Isiah are as much featured vocalists as Hynes is himself. The duo fills in for the constellation of collaborators who have graced his albums in recent years, and each stole the show on several occasions. This was most notable during renditions of “Best to You” and “Holy Will”, respectively. It feels trite to say that they took us to church, but there was the distinct air of being transported to a place of worship at several points that night.
The one downside to the evening was the constant displacement of people from the aisles by the Lincoln Theatre’s ushers. I understand that it’s likely necessary for compliance with fire code safety, but surely there’s a better solution than non-stop chatter asking people to move to a seat? Maybe you eliminate general admission seating for the Lincoln, and go back to assigning seats. At least that way people know what lot they’ve been cast beforehand. Either that, or book more animated acts like Blood Orange at the 9:30 Club, where the problem is solved by standing room only.
Despite that, the vibe on Friday was clearly one of celebration. Hynes, and by extension the crowd, was animated and engaged. The first three rows – cordoned off from the rest of the seats at The Lincoln – was buzzing with celebratory energy, and all the musicians on stage beamed from ear to ear throughout. The contrast between that performance and the previous Blood Orange show on this very stage – almost two years to the date – was remarkable, starting with the way the stage was set up. Where 2016’s show was spartan, subdued, and deeply emotional, with Hynes taking a backseat to a trio of ballet dancers who interpreted his music through their movements and contortions, this was very much About A Band. And this band played loud and enthusiastically, led by Hynes, who played more guitar than we’ve been accustomed to seeing him in recent years. It was fitting that the show ended with him on an acoustic guitar playing Negro Swan closer “Smoke”, the gentle strums framing a heartfelt sing along that the whole theatre joined in on. Dev Hynes isn’t perfect, but he’s exactly what we need right now.