Perhaps Halloween shows should be spooky but the audience at a sold-out show at Songbyrd Music House was nothing but smiles for synthpoppers Nation of Language and their openers The Wants Sunday. While the performance may have dealt in its share of angst as musical inspiration, the 200+ folks gathered could only dance in delight as the young New York City bands also took a page from classic new wave and post-punk acts that would have made MTV’s 120 Minutes proud.
Brooklyn post-punks The Wants have traveled with Nation of Language to open the entire tour, which gave the trio the opportunity to showcase their debut full-length album, Container. The Wants dropped Container in March 2020, right before the pandemic locked down the world, and the band clearly was itching to get those songs out into the world during their show at Songbyrd on Oct. 31.
Led by the magnetic and lanky Madison Velding-VanDam on vocals and guitar, The Wants twisted and turned their way through 30 minutes or more of music that cleary drew from both New York City legacy bands like Talking Heads and also early Factory Records innovators in Manchester, England.
Take the title track of the full-length Container as an indicator of what to expect from The Wants. Played early in the set, the catchy tune rolled over our ears like rippling silk — smooth and pleasing but also with ragged rolls and folds. Madison danced awkwardly across the stage at Songbyrd to be greeted on the other side by bassist Heather Elle, who built a foundation for the frontman’s guitar and synths with her hypnotic melodies. Filling out the extraordinary triad, drummer Jason Gates nailed the whole thing down with pulsating percussive power.
Not only do The Wants sound fantastic, but they are a visual band as well. You cannot help but watch Madison, particularly as the driven singer places his guitar’s head down across the speaker in a signature move that draws just the right amount of pleasing feedback.
Watch the official music video for “Container” by The Wants on YouTube:
To my knowledge, this is the third time Nation of Language had visited DC, and their first visit as headliner. I caught them previously in 2018 at 9:30 Club, opening The Wombats, and again in 2019 at U Street Music Hall, opening Holy Ghost! Anyone else who caught Nation of Language during those opening sets surely discovered a very appropriate opening act for those two bands — complementary while not being too similar.
Today, Nation of Language clearly has come into their own. The new wave trio arrived at Songbyrd fresh and hungry, ready to create. In 2020, the trio released Introduction, Presence, their debut full-length album, and they follow it up this month with sophomore record A Way Forward.
Lean and clean, Ian Richard Devaney (vocals, guitar, percussion), Aidan Noell (synth), and Michael Sue-Poi (bass) have grown tighter and more ambitious as a unit over the past three years. On Sunday, they divided their set fairy evenly between the first album and their latest, throwing themselves into 13 new wave gems.
Early in the set, Nation of Language played “I’ve Thought About Chicago,” a very early single that showcased Devaney’s welcome warble. Devaney swayed and wailed with the occasional thrust to accentuate the narrator’s longing for a new life in an ode to cities that would please any admirer of early ’80s Futurism.
The surprises in Nation of Language’s set sprang simply from how ridiculously good they are. Midway through the set, Ian pounced on Aidan’s synthesizers and whipped up sparkling cascades of electronic beats for Introduction, Presence’s standout “Indignities.” Aidan’s fingers flew over the keyboards. Aidan’s cool checked Ian’s fervor a bit, but she too is consumed by the music. The duo often appeared as if the songs had constructed them and not the other way around — the imagery of their musical synthesis so archly perfect that it would be impossible not to immediately associate the musician with the song and vice versa.
Nation of Language ended their main set on “This Fractured Mind” from the upcoming A Way Forward, and I cannot help but recall how Ian credited Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark as inspiration for Nation of Language. OMD would surely identify themselves with the emotive vocal punctuated by the racing synths. That said, Ian, Aidan, and Michael brought plenty of personal punch to songs that are clearly a labor of love.
Watch the official music video for “This Fractured Mind” by Nation of Language on YouTube:
Nation of Language have one last US date in this tour — at home in Brooklyn on Nov. 4. Catch them before they leave for a winter tour of Europe, where they are sure to be a smash and to return home with more appetite for great synthpop.
Here are some pictures of The Wants performing at Songbyrd Music House on Oct. 31, 2021.
Here are some photos of Nation of Language performing at Songbyrd Music House on Oct. 31, 2021.