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It came as a total shock to see London band 2:54 headlining at the Rock and Roll Hotel. The first demoby the Thurlow sisters, (“Creeping”) showed up online 18 months ago, followed by the debut single (“Ona Wire”) a couple of months later, a fantastic EP (“Scarlet”) at the end of last year on the Cure-relatedFiction records, and a single with a remix by Wild Beasts in March. Their debut eponymous album isunder two weeks old and their U.S. profile is near nil. What in the world are they doing headlining on anunforgiving Sunday night on H Street NE?

Well, the short answer is they played to a relatively empty room. And it’s a damn shame, because 2:54are a stunning live proposition, playing gorgeous, dark, bewitching songs with blinding skill. The closestcomparison I can give is Warpaint meets the XX. Mesmerizing music.

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And mesmerizing is exactly how I’d describe opener Windowspeak, an American band with an albumon Captured Tracks. The five-piece played a stellar set of Mazzy Star-inflected beauty, with bits ofFourwaycross (in other words, uniquely American, blissed out guitar indie). Even when they go slightlymore aggressive, as they do with their penultimate song, it’s still an enrapturing sound, with dreamyfemale vocals delivered by Molly Hamilton and western-inflected, David Roback-inflected guitars byRobert Earl Thomas, and strong, beautiful drumming by Michael Stasiak (I didn’t catch the bassistsname). I bee-line for the merch stand and buy the self-titled debut, and go online to track down their singles. They were that good.

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2:54 kick off their set, to a disappointing 40 people, with “Circuitry” from the new album. It’s a bleak,beautiful beginning, reminiscent of a guitar-y “Shelter,” with a crashing end, the sound expanded bytouring members Alex Robins and Joel Porter. “Sugar” is next, full of menacing bass and a dark, Juju-era Siouxsie feel imparted by Charlotte’s fantastic voice. “On a Wire” from the first single is next, withits soaring, sad vocals, and “You’re Early” – the track remixed by Wild Beasts and also available on vinylfrom Fiction, with its urgent, chugging guitar line, and aching vocals – finish out the opening part of theset. I’m filled with a melancholy joy – melancholy because the place is bloody empty, but joy becauseI’m witnessing something truly special.

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“Dawn” and “Scarlet” from the December EP are stunning in a live setting, the former delicate withkeyboards I hadn’t noticed on record, and the latter demanding attention like the classic it is. “A Salute”lightens the mood with galloping drums and a beautiful, droney breakdown towards the end, with thevocals cruising over the perfectly drilled live band. “Easy Undercover” follows, and my attention startsto wander before an utterly breathtaking wave of guitar crashes over the end of the song. They endtheir set with their first track, “Creeping,” just as unforgettable and desolate as I remember it, but withthe full sound of the band offsetting Charlotte’s increasingly desperate, lovelorn-sounding vocals, andthey’re off.

I had to meet 2:54 afterwards; both Thurlow sisters stood at the merch stand, oddly alone. They wereas gracious and pleased that anyone came to the show – offering that it’s hard to come out on a Sunday.Considering the intimidating circuit of festivals they’ve played/have yet to play in Europe, this seemsoverly gracious. They are sensational, and DC let them down.

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  • Widowspeak

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