Words by Phelps
Photos: Sally Simms
An Ian MacKaye quote from last week’s City Paper would not be off the mark if he’d been referencing last Thursday: “The band and the audience make the show. I’ve seen great bands play to dead audiences and when you play like that to a vacuum it may as well be a practice.” School of Seven Bells were playing to a pretty packed Hotel by 10:30, one of the first shows since founding member and twin Claudia Deheza departed the band for personal reasons.
I imagined there’d be some palpable energy of support amongst their audience to match their own sense of urgency but the disconnect was clearly evident. As much as Benjamin Curtis bounded about the stage, firing off atmospheric guitar lines while manipulating various electronics, as much as Alejandra Deheza strummed furiously while interacting intimately with both Curtis and the audience, all wide eyed theatrics and gesturing, it was inversely proportional to a crowd that barely nodded and bounced and certainly didn’t dance.
The set was primarily focused on the latest record, Disconnect From Desire, and saw the band oscillating between their signature synthy electro bounce and calmer fare which showcased Deheza’s impressive vocal range. Heart is Strange, Babelonia and Dust Devil wore their undeniable New Order influence with class and Deheza preached about how she should have been “happier now than I’ve ever been.” Joviann took a 180, a slow-burn of ethereal guitar, sparse drums, and “I used to know” choruses. Not an unfitting line for a band thrust into a new dynamic in the middle of a tour. In fact, it was hard to separate all of the songs of separation and destruction, from Bye Bye Bye to the set standout Windstorm, from their current situation.
The latter seemed to capture the sense of control that bled out from the stage, a defiant stance against their “fire burning from sky to ground.”
The middle opener was Active Child, the harp-synth project of LA’s Pat Grossi. Four months, a couple of countries, and forty-five shows since his July stop in DC, whatever toll the road has taken has given much back in stage presence and confidence. Grossi moved effortlessly between harp, keys, guitar and laptop while addressing the crowd with his conspicuous falsetto, a powerful instrument in and of itself.
Covering most of the Curtis Lane EP, Grossi set the tone with She Was A Vision, a haunting piece of interstellar R n B. Wilderness draped the crowd in a hazy fog of apocalyptic romance and I’m In Your Church At Night was the first time I’d seen a crowd move hips to the harp jams. She Was A Vision, a stark portrait of loss wrapped in pipe organ and horn samples, closed the set.
DC’s own Allie Alvarado took the stage first with her latest project, Painted Face. I’d missed the listening party post earlier in the day but wasn’t surprised in the least to see she referenced Kate Bush when describing Undreamt, the title track of her new EP. Alvarado has the massive pipes to back up the reference and her songs are rife with raw emotion and thoughtful lyrically. She controlled the mic solo and was accompanied by one keyboard but it would have been nice to see her with more live instrumentation. Her tracks, as textured as they are, have a huge sound in your headphones and a backing band could actualize a potentially monstrous live set.