One of the most remarkable feats of touring musicians today is keeping their sound fresh while staying true to the style that initially attracted a fanbase. A celebration of independent folk and rock music, Lucy Dacus is one of the most thoughtfully creative touring singer-songwriters today.
And, at just 26 years old, she’s an amazing success story — she’s already released three critically acclaimed albums, given unforgettable performances at events like the Newport Folk Festival, and formed a power-trio known as boygenius with fellow stars Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker. Her Twitter prowess — close to 100,000 followers — speaks to the level of embrace and support by fans.
Her first of back-to-back shows at the 9:30 Club in DC — a club she wanted to headline since she set out as a musician — Dacus packed the venue the night of Oct. 22 and rewarded those in attendance with 16 songs from her young, but fantastic catalogue.
“The best venue in the country,” is how she referred to the V Street space, meeting an explosion of cheers. “I’ve been looking forward to these shows since I knew they were going to happen. … When I first started out, I set goals. One of them was to play 9:30 Club.”
Dynamic in presenting her array of songs, Lucy opened last Friday night with a grandiose, circling version of “First Time,” a track from the 2021 release Home Video that makes use of effects to create a sense of space and distance to examine the challenges of growing up. Like she did for each of the tracks on the album, Lucy broke this one down in a Pitchfork feature following the album’s release.
She jumped back to the acclaimed 2018 album Historian for the night’s second song, performing an unnerved take on “Addictions,” a track that examines human struggles with needs — including our tendency to attach to other humans. This song also quickly helped show that the night wasn’t just about Lucy, but the outstanding band she’s been touring and making music with for a few years, especially keyboardist Sarah Goldstone, whose work toward the back of the stage gave immeasurable depth to the set.
Watch the official video for Lucy Dacus’ 2021 single “Hot & Heavy” via her YouTube channel:
Performing “Hot & Heavy,” one of her most adored singles of the year, Lucy showcased her gift of a voice and her ability to use it as an appeasing force within fetching, uplifting grooves that can carry the listener and move them toward infinite reprieve. Within this song, Lucy explores herself through her own scope, but through the eyes of others as well, in a track she hoped would set an inviting and revelatory tone for the album:
“Being back here makes me hot in the face
Hot blood in my pulsing veins
Heavy memories weighing on my brain
Hot and heavy in the basement of your parents’ place
You used to be so sweet
Now you’re a firecracker on a crowded street
Couldn’t look away even if I wanted
Try to walk away but I come back to the start.”
Lucy was flanked by her talented long-time friend Jacob Blizard, who is as courteous of a shredding electric guitar player as you will find, and he seemed organically fit in both manner and skill to bring timely, amplified play into the presentation. In “Yours & Mine,” a hit from Historian, Jacob seemed to extend or widen his chords, creating a sound that no doubt already resonates as classic to Lucy’s growing fanbase and echoed off the back of the club’s walls.
Bass player Dominic Angelella and drummer Ricardo Lagomasino were essential in helping Lucy create a contemporary sound with an energy supply to push this performance into a territory some might not expect upon first hearing her delicate voice — as much as she can sooth you, Lucy’s music can absolutely rock you to your core.
Stream Lucy Dacus’ 2021 album Home Video via Spotify:
At 9:30 Club, she joked about what it took for her crew to come together: “There’s two requirements for this band: you have to be nice, and you have to be cute.”
But in all seriousness, her colleagues proved themselves to be as every bit as world class as herself, and Lucy earnestly applauded her squad at every opportunity. She would, of course, perform a couple of songs without the full band, including a beautiful take on “Christine,” floating her velvet expression over an unobtrusive piano line and acoustic strumming that gradually guided this cut from Hot & Heavy.
During “Cartwheel,” Lucy picked up the bass while Blizard played the acoustic in an arrangement that produced a haunting, stark result of a song, one that showcased Lucy’s propensity for what manifest as wholly original folk compositions, decorated ever so slightly with rock attributes.
A highlight of the evening, “Yours & Mine” from Historian translated to an incredible live offering, one that showed Lucy using her cry as not just an instrument, but a vehicle to carry the entire group. She was nearly operatic, belting out the beautiful, eye-watering words “take care of you and yours” while Blizard rendered this song’s gorgeous, cosmic swell in a moment ticketholders were clearly waiting for.
Dacus’ first night of two at 9:30 Club brought to the popular stage not just one incredible act on their way up, but two, as her opener, Bartees Strange, was a special treat on its own for anyone in the District who’s been paying attention to music media.
Led by Bartees Cox Jr., who hails from England but currently lives in DC, Bartees Strange is a rapidly rising indie rock group that in many ways is defying the restraints of genres and the confines of any conversation about them.
“I’ve lived in DC a while and I’ve never played here,” Bartees admitted to the crowd at 9:30 Club, smiling wide and revealing his joy during a nine-song set, which included songs from the 2020’s Live Forever studio album and the premiere of “17,” a new track “for us DC people,” Bartees said.
A boisterous singer with an endearing visage and an adventurous, vaulting guitarist, Bartees led his band through a brief but profound, invigorating slice of music that spoke to just how excited this gentleman was to play this venue and how diligently he’s worked to create a unique sound.
Watch the official music video for Bartees Strange’s 2020 single Boomer via Memory Music’s YouTube channel:
“I’m taking my time … ‘cause this shit is crazy,” he said as he switched guitar between two songs. Cox proudly introduced his band: drummer Jordyn Blakely, bassist John Daise, guitarist Dan Kleederman and keyboardist/guitarist Graham Richman.
Recently highlighted in Pitchfork’s 25 Next List feature, Bartees moved to Oklahoma before moving to DC, where just a few years ago he was the communications director for a local company.
Now, with a song catalogue that seamlessly fuses elements of rock, rap, hip-hop, jazz, punk, and other forms — and captivating covers of artists like The National and Richard Swift — Bartees has created a fresh conversation about genres and why they could potentially be confining, pointless notions.
On a tour that elevated the visibility of both these promising artists, Dacus was gracious along the way on both social media and the stage in applauding her travel companion and his band for the positive buzz they are generating nationwide.
Stream Bartees Strange’s 2020 studio album Live Forever via Spotify:
“Watching them play, it was emotional for me too,” she said to the 9:30 audience. And not long before inviting Bartees Strange back out to cap the night with both bands on stage, Lucy was blatant in endorsing Cox and his efforts to bring something new to the fold.
“I hope you’ll all follow him throughout his career,” she said, the applause immediate, and with added enthusiasm from plenty of locals in the room.
Here are images of Lucy Dacus, along with her opening act, Bartees Strange, performing at 9:30 Club on Oct. 22, 2021. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.