If there’s something the music world always needs more of, it's the saxophone (“Careless Whisper” be damned), and Marian Hill is here to help.
The duo of Jeremy Lloyd and Samantha Gongol made a splash with their musical melding of pop, R&B and hip-hop beats with their debut EP, Sway, two years ago. Now, they have released their debut album, ACT ONE, through Republic Records, and recently brought the album and a whole lot of swagger to a packed 9:30 Club.
Gongol is the quintessential frontwoman with a delicate voice that is the ideal contrast to the bass-thumping beats that rang throughout the club. She sang songs about love and lust while moving about the stage, ensuring that no corner was left waiting for her dance moves. When she reached out to their adoring fans in the front row, they screamed and squealed without abandon. Even the many flips of her hair were constantly met with a barrage of cheers from the crowd. As Gongol made her way back and forth across the stage, Lloyd let the music and his heavy head-bobs speak for themselves. During songs like “Lips”, he augmented Gongol’s voice with a barrage of clips that distorted her voice in both very high and low octaves. His unique blending of the organic and the augmented voice was present for a majority of the set, constantly adjusting every sound to his liking. In the same way that Phantogram and BROODS has someone to keep the rhythm going strong throughout the show, Lloyd drove the music forward.
And yet in light of how easily they could get the crowds to dance, their key differentiator was neither of them. Instead, it was a bespectacled saxophone player named Steve Davits. While Lloyd would provide a few distorted sax clips of his own through his drum pad, Steve Davits danced around those sounds with his saxophone. Their first big hit, “Got It”, received a live boost of energy from the addition of a live sax playing alongside Lloyd’s drum pad (also featuring distorted saxophone clips) and Gongol’s voice. One of the concert highlights came in the form of a two-minute untitled instrumental, where Gongol took a break from the stage and let the Lloyd and Davits own the moment with some solos and some very danceable hip-hop beats.
Marian Hill doesn’t go all the way in re-creating their sound in a live setting, but when you have an entire crowd singing the hits like “Got It”, maybe it’s not necessary. There are few bands that can justifiably own it, but their unique blend of genres has found a sizeable audience and got the crowd to move just as much as they did on stage.
The night opened with DC synth-pop band SHAED, previously known as The Walking Sticks. They’re not just an up-and-comer in the district - they’ve signed to Photo Finish Records and recently released their debut EP, Just Wanna See, to lots of online buzz (and airtime on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 radio show). You could tell that this was a special show for them - a dedicated crowd of longtime fans arrived early to see them play DC’s most venerated stage. Their take on big pop music is driven by singer Chelsea Lee’s impressive vocal range, delivering high notes with ease. Brothers Spencer and Max Ernst switched off between keys, drum pads, and guitars throughout the show, showing a nice range beyond just synth sounds. Even nicer were the loud cries for an encore. As the first of three bands to play that night, the reception for these hometown heroes was just as nice as any headliner could ever receive.
Finally, Verité held her own between a well-received hometown band and a headliner. No newcomer to music blog buzz, she’s released an EP every year since her debut in 2014 (her latest EP, Living, was independently released earlier this year) and has garnered millions of plays on many of her songs. Even more impressive is that she has done so without a record label backing her up. This set plucked fan favorites from all three and displayed her vocals at full force. One can feel the intensity and sincerity of her lyrics as her voice rings out. Combined with the dark electronic soundscape of many of her songs, she proved why she’s a rising musical force who is still yet to reach her full potential.