One of the quintessential band configurations is the fantastic synthpop duo — usually (but not always) a man on synthesizers and a woman on vocals.
Adult. certainly have realized the power of this duality and distilled it to a primal form. Adam Lee Miller and Nicola Kuperus, husband and wife artists from Detroit, opened up their songwriting process to contributing artists who actually lived with them in their house for three weeks at a clip, resulting in their latest album Detroit House Guests, released via Mute Records on March 17. The duo visited DC9 on Thursday to perform some of those songs.
Adam and Nicola began their show in a shroud of darkness with little light, while Adam coaxed soothing sounds from his synthesizers. Nicola started the show from the bar, where she first sang with her microphone wire extended from the stage. The dense and enthusiastic crowd gently parted as she slinked up to the stage, taking time to size up her audience until she reached the edge.
After the lights came up a little, Adult. broke out songs from the new record such as “Stop (and Start Again),” a catchy number that makes great use of repetition and escalating synths. The song is a strong platform for Nicola’s husky and sweet voice, and you could be excused for thinking that the song sprang from Siouxsie and the Banshees circa 1978. “Stop (and Start Again)” is an accessible and appealing song, and Nicola swayed with punk cabaret stylings, evoking similar performances from Siouxsie or Amanda Palmer. Nicola often sang with two microphones, which she would combine for effects or swing from side to side as she shifted her stance.
Thursday’s show was my first time seeing Adult., who had not visited DC in 10 years, and I was sold by “Stop (and Start Again),” which is the sort of song that I would very much have wanted to add to my record collection as a kid in 1982. (I had the joy of adding it now as an adult in 2017.)
Adult. soon explore the past, stepping back slight to “Love Lies” from The Way Things Fall in 2013. The selection is characterized by trebly synths from Adam and sparse haunting vocals by Nicola. The gloomy lyrics about how “love lies” may certainly steer Adult. into industrial territory, but largely the melodies remain bright and sparkling, worthy of more graceful dancing (as Nicola demonstrated Thursday) rather than thrashing yourself about the floor.
Two of the best songs from the new album feature guest vocals from Douglas McCarthy of Nitzer Ebb. On Detroit House Guests, he sounds quite unlike himself, which is part of the surprise appeal of the songs. Clearly, Douglas isn’t on tour with Adult., so Paul Bancell from opening band Ritual Howls fulfilled the role of the male singer in the songs.
Nicola and Paul utilized effective call and response in the lyrics of “They’re Just Words” to exhibit their crooning capabilities. They also performed “We Are a Mirror,” the lead single and McCarthy’s other song from the new album. It again veered Adult. from “punk cabaret” to more industrial, but it also kept firmly accessible and even soothing with its suggests of unity in lyrics “we are a mirror” and “don’t be afraid.”
Adult. closed their show with some fan favorites to cheers from our rather full little club. The duo remained on stage, for example, for a one-song encore — “Hand to Phone,” an early single from 2000. Adult.’s sound and vision certainly took us back to their art punk moorings, and its delightful synthwaves and chirps would fit very much at home in the early works of Gary Numan or John Foxx, particularly with its overtones of suspicion of technology.
For their next concert, Adult. appear in Allston, Massachusetts at the cool indie rock club Great Scott. They pace around the United States and Canada to end up in Seattle on June 17. Adult. make for highly recommended viewing! Erudite and energetic, they often lyrically elevate simple concepts by cloaking them in sophisticated observations all the while reminding us to dance along to always infectious synthpop.
Here are some more pictures of Adult. performing at DC9 on Thursday, May 11, 2017.