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all words: Shona Fenner
all photos: Sarah Gormley

Thursday night at 9:30 club was like wearing your heart on your sleeve. The three bands that graced us with their presence each played as though the whole experience was new to them, practiced but appreciative and all emotionally raw. The line-up felt as though it was too big and simply too amazing to really be all rolled together for one weeknight bill. Honestly I would have been into it if any of the three had been headliners. However it is just the opening band that makes my heartbeat flutter and suddenly I start to feel “feelings”.

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Super dreamy Future Islands came on when people were still walking home from work. These guys are a Baltimore band that I have seen live more times than I can count on one hand. Each show has left me starry-eyed and newly head over heels in epic band love. They started out in my home turf of North Carolina and have been slowly but surely taking over with their likeable electronic pulse.

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I find this trio’s live performances absolutely enthralling. While the keyboardist stares down at the keys and the bassist stares straight ahead their enigmatic frontman does almost everything except stand still. He struts around the stage throwing punches into the air, pawing at his sweaty face, and reaching out to the fans he knows feel it too. I would call Sam Herring an artful combination of classic Meatloaf with the melancholy romanticism of Morrissey, a charming and visceral combination. He growls through some of the lyrics almost threateningly but pushes past that to show a vast emotional range portrayed through shouts and croons.

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The songs themselves are autobiographically based and tell the tales of lost loves, betrayal, change, and more lost loves. With Sam Herring slapping himself in the face before one song and literally cramming his fist in his mouth during another he seems larger than life. He pulls you down with him from the start. These big gestures don’t seem to be very extreme behavior once you get swept up in the music that is really more disco-y than I am making it sound. I simply cannot recommend Future Islands enough, they are the jam you guys. Go listen to “Vireo’s Eye”, “Walking Through That Doo”, or “As I Fall” like right now!

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Next up came the boozy Americana indie punk band Titus Andronicus. This anthemic and energetic group comes from New Jersey and packs a wild punch that comes from left field. I got the chance to catch them at RnR Hotel awhile ago and while I liked the vibe of that show much better (people actually moved and danced for once) their performance at 9:30 showcased the same vivacity and vigor from the band.

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Titus Andronicus gives a much-needed intellectual element to their fist clenching, Springsteen influenced (its hard to be from NJ and not be into The Boss), staunchly American musical stylings. With a name coined from a Shakespearian epic and lines from historical speeches and texts intermingled with the tracks on their album they make me wish I had taken more history classes, or at least read a non fiction book in the last year. The rowdy and ready-to-go epic ballads make you shake with vibrations and be suddenly become aware of your blood alcohol level and how solidly the soles of your shoes connect you to the floor.

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Fan favorites such as “A More Perfect Union” really needed more crowd involvement. Their music is meant to be reacted to with sloppy spirit dancing, but all DC seemed to have was semi-interested stares and a lot of people taking trips to and from the bar. Titus Andronicus plays with immediacy that I think blatantly shows their New England punk upbringing and should make the crowd stop standing idly by and respecting each other so much. The rhythm section is strong and all members of the band appear overjoyed at the chance to play yet another show. Their set was short but satisfying and I would have been totally content if that was all the night had to offer. But we still have a third band to go…

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Okkervil River is yet another indie band, but his time with a careful folk twist. They have been around for over a decade now and hail from Austin, Texas. They are talented enough to produce the kind of songs that make you sit in the car that extra two minutes just so you can get to that one special line at the end.

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With introspective lyrics and a full-bodied sound that adequately reflects their talented six-person lineup the listener can feel as though thier music reflects the fact that the world really does revolve around you. I like Okkervil River but I am by no means a superfan, so a set lasting nearly an hour and fourty five minutes could have been a real trial. But they really pulled it out and had superfans, and just appreciative folk such as myself, cheering and clapping from the get-go all the way through the three songs of the encore much later.

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This band’s accessibility is obviously what brought in the crowd. The show sold out quickly and by easy observation one could see that most people there had come specifically for Okkervil River. By the time Titus Andronicus finished and the set up began for our headliner began, the venue was packed to the gills with a sea of people that looked as though they would have the most oddly varied music taste. But evidently this lengthy performance was a must-see for all.

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With the release of their newest effort, I Am Very Far, new and old fans are flocking to see these merry indie heroes live. The crowd was enthralled and people seemed to be able to identify each song before I even knew another had begun. While Okkervil River may not have been as loud as Titus Andronicus, or as close to madness as Future Islands, they succeeded in getting the crowd to all stand silently, leaning in for more throughout the longest set I have seen in quite some time.

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Not one band fell short and I would say the night was a brilliant musical adventure. I should have bought some merchandise.

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