Singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler led the intimate crowd circled expectantly around the DC9 stage through 13 atmospheric songs about dreams and yearning and finding your way out of the woods.
In the small space of DC9, Marissa’s songs resonated with introspective lyrics and haunting vocals that were soulful and moving.
Touring on her newest album, Strangers, Marissa played at least eight of her new songs. She left the single “Janie In Love” off the setlist however, indicating she was still working on how to play the live version. The new album focuses on loneliness, and characters that are fractured, disillusioned, and delicate, hence they are the voice of ‘strangers’.
Opening with “Dissolve” from Strangers, Marissa played her guitar (she recently started playing lead guitar) solo, before the rest of the accompanying band came on stage. Kira Clark and Keith McGraw, of the openers Muscle and Marrow, sang back-up vocals and played drums respectively. Milky Burgess played bass.
A few songs later Marissa played “Hungry as a Ghost”, which she described as a metaphor for addictive personalities, with that constant yearning. The vocals deftly wove slow and soulfully, before coming to a big drop. One of the few times the music really took over. Many of the songs gained their strength and mood and harmony from Marissa’s seductive voice.
Originally born in DC, she grew up near Boston and has embarked on a 12-year journey of music, releasing seven albums so far. She let the rapt crowd know that she hadn’t played in DC for a long time, but later allowed that this was her “best DC show yet”. She often chatted between songs, ostensibly as she wrote many of her songs with open tunings, and ‘talking was okay, otherwise it’s brutal up here’ while she tuned her guitars.
She talked about Joni Mitchell as an influence and the album Hejira as one of her favorite records. Towards the end of the set, she also played a Neil Young cover of “Cortez the Killer”.
My favorite song of the evening was “All the Colors of the Dark”. The video used stop-motion animation and she said it was hard to create as she had to sing the lyrics many times during its making. Listening to the recorded video, there is a definite difference in the tone and style, the live version was deeper and more resonant.
She ended the show with “Katie I Know” and an older song, “Diamond Heart”.
Time to give Strangers a chance, to prepare you for her next live show when she comes back to DC.
Setlist (I think)
2. Dead City Emily
4. Hungry as a Ghost
5. Nothing Feels the Same
6. Was It a Dream
7. All the Colors of the Dark
11. Cortez the Killer
12. Katie I Know
13. Diamond Heart