All words: William Alberque — All photos: Farrah Skeiky
Active Child returned to the Black Cat for their seventh DC show in two years, and, while I still adore their gorgeous, enrapturing, ethereal music, it may be time for a pause that refreshes before touring again.
It tells you something about how great the music scene is in DC for me to be a bit “meh” about a show of this quality, but I find myself thinking – surely, Active Child have graduated to a seated venue, where one can really revel in the sonic feast before us – maybe Sixth and I? Because however tempted I am to go up front, it means a lot of standing and staring and feeling transported, but not a lot of moving around.
There is no question that Pat Grossi is the man with the golden throat, blessed with vocal talents that would make Liz Fraser put off her solo album another year in frustration. And his backing band, including a drummer (still didn’t get his name) and long-time friend and bassist Stratton Easter, is a skilled and well-drilled precision unit. Still, I find myself looking at the magical harp and the Greek statuettes decorating the stage with just a bit of “oh, this again.”
The crowd seems to reflect my verdict – happy, enjoying it and each other, but not sold out, and not overly engaged as the show slips by. The familiar notes of “You Are All I See” are the perfect expression of aching romantic love and longing – the sonic equivalent of the impassive female beauty of the Greek busts staring sightlessly out into space, while the male gaze looks on, helplessly besotted.
All the right songs are here, and you can look at my past reviews for the blow-by-blow, song-by-song analysis of what their show sounds like. This time, though, I’m reflecting on what’s not happening. Fortunately, it seems Grossi has reigned in the Knife/Fever Ray-like vocal effects, reveling instead in his prodigious pipes. At one point, he sounds remarkably like Lisa Gerrard (think Layer Cake), at others like a demented, operatic Florence sans Machine, but always with notable range and depth (and unlike Flo, never like a donkey being fired out of a foghorn).
Grossi is, as always, gracious and genuinely nice and respectful to his crowd, though Arnold keeps dropping wry descriptions of the night – “sounds a bit like the soundtrack to Legend” and “this is like Severed Heads fronted by Julee Cruise” both had me laughing out loud. Still, the high points of “When Your Love Is Safe” and the iconic, “I’m in Your Church at Night” glitter like jewels hung from the black ceiling of the Cat, towering over the room, and illuminating the darkest corners of the soul.
About an hour in, though, I experience a rare but debilitating beauty overload, and I need it to stop. I stand by my conclusion – next time through, Active Child have to play a seated venue, and only after giving us a bit of a break, and them time to write some new songs and come at the whole thing fresh. Wonderful, to be certain, but enough for just a little while.