all words: William Alberque
all photos: Farrah Skeiky
The first time I saw Class Actress was at DC9 in April 2010, the same night as a spectacular Florence and the Machine gig at the 930. What a night. I fell in love with the music of two strikingly beautiful women, a redhead from London and a brunette from Brooklyn (I have a crush on the latter). I missed her last time she was in time, so despite Djing half the day with a good friend for BYT Hipster Camp (is there a better DJ in DC than DJ Stereo Faith? I don’t think so), I made a bee-line to the All-Things-Go Summer Showcase at the Gibson Guitar Showroom.
I first ran across Class Actress lead singer Elizabeth Harper as an indie kid, wearing her Smiths (“Trouble in the Palace”) and New Order (“Let Me Take You Out”) and Cure (her pitch-perfect cover of “Pictures of You”) influences on her sleeves and on her Angular Records debut (also home to the Long Blondes, fact fans). She’s beloved of my colleagues here at BYT Towers, has an impossibly ace EP – the Journal of Ardency – and a full LP (Rapprocher) to come. In the meantime, she’s the go-to girl for remakes and mash-ups. Excellent stuff.
Opening was Painted Face. I will point you to some past examples of my love for Allie Alvarado. She is the most talented rising star I know in this city, and it is with increased impatience that I await her ascension into the firmament. She’s amazing and you should buy her CDEP right now.
Playing without regulars Karin Jue and Fiona Griffin, Allie was left to roam the tiny stage of the Gibson alone – without one of her signature creative outfits, might I add, instead looking quite fetching in a black and white dress. Still, she managed to carry the day.
Though I’ve seen her four or five times, and know each of the songs on the EP by heart, I’m always pleased by Painted Face’s ability to surprise me with either a new song or something new in an old one. It’s the incredible emotion of her voice – a pleading; almost sorrowful sound can turn into a quiet, inwardly satisfied smile before filling the noise with joy in the space of a single phrase – that keeps drawing me in.
She is just an impeccably talented song-writer and singer – the trembling pain at the end of “Undreamt” has me gasping for air (maybe it’s just heatstroke) as she finished yet another perfect set.
And then to Elizabeth, clad in her signature men’s white button-down shirt and military-looking jacket. She regards the audience with a certain distance before launching into the first of her icy, electro anthems. There’s something about these songs – the slow, placid, dreamy quality of “Journal of Ardency” – that lures you in and locks you into its sinister grooves.
The lyrics, intelligent and playful, all delivered with a languorous and yet detached sensuality that drives me right out of my head. She follows with a new one from the forthcoming album, “Keep You,” trilling her vocals through the marvelous chorus, mixing themes of love and impatience over a perfect electro beat.
With “Careful What You Say,” Elizabeth really starts to establish a remarkable rapport with the audience, playing with the alternating emotional distance and closeness of the song. The naïve little keyboard line that peppers the chorus and the great, harmonized outro reel the audience in. It’s good to see – if I have a criticism of Class Actress live, it’s the cold distance between the band and the crowd. That said, “Let Me Take You Out” shatters any pretense of icy distance.
As I hope you heard in the mp3 above, it’s as perfect a hug of a summertime indie hit as you’re likely to get from them. There’s a couple more new songs mixed into the all-to-short set, and I’m well impressed. I have to say – she hasn’t been burning up the airwaves with new tunes of late, so it’s good to know that the new album is choc-a-block with more beautiful, intriguing, electro pop wonders. I do have to wonder, though, what will break Class Actress into the big time. I know it’s there – you can hear it in her VCR cover (again, above, pay attention) – she’s got it. It’s just a matter of time before the A&R folks figure it out and make her a star.