Home Live Review Live Review: MJ Lenderman @ DC9 — 2/3/23

Live Review: MJ Lenderman @ DC9 — 2/3/23

Live Review: MJ Lenderman @ DC9 — 2/3/23

Jake Lenderman leads his solo project MJ Lenderman in a performance at DC9 on Feb. 3, 2023. (Photo by Casey Vock)

The look and sound of country music and its many offshoots varies more by the minute.

But whatever form they might employ, the most enduring artists in this realm have traditionally been those who focus on the nuances of the music and not so much the appearance or presentation.

Patiently and thoughtfully nurturing the solo project he began back in 2017, Jake Lenderman has in the wake of the pandemic years successfully positioned himself, or more so the vehicle itself, MJ Lenderman, as a shamelessly pitiful, emotive and refreshing breed of alternative country for the 2020s.

Jake showed in a Feb. 3 appearance at DC9 that he’s very much a visionary artist on the upswing, playing to a sold-out audience that was thrilled to plod along in the packed space and sing the words to nearly every song of this Friday night set.

Stream the 2022 MJ Lenderman album, Boat Songs, via Spotify:

Emerging from an Asheville, NC scene garnering attention as a lively one bursting with burgeoning talent, Lenderman is a standout as a guitarist for the shoegaze band Wednesday, which was formed and is fronted by his partner, Karly Hartzman.

A couple of the MJ Lenderman digital albums were co-released with Wednesday, and as Jake took the small DC9 stage with Hartzman as well as Wednesday steel pedal player Xandy Chelmis, it affirmed the close nature of the two outfits.

While those sounds have proven complimentary on the 2018 EP How Do You Let the Love Into the Heart That Isn’t Split Wide Open and 2021’s Guttering, Jake is recently gaining momentum with his distinct sound — his music is both bygone and woebegone but so brash that it never really stands still even at its most sullen.

Where does the MJ stand for? Well, research indicates it to possibly be Lenderman’s initials. But a dive into the music reveals it might just be for … sport.

Introduced via social media as The Wind, Jake’s supporting band in the nation’s capital set a tense tone with a chugging, blaring take on “SUV” from Boat Songs, Jake’s full-length 2022 album. That record was consistently praised by music critics and on this tour it’s helping him offer a compelling sample of his remarkable songwriting and his vulnerable, wildly gratifying delivery that in some songs has to persist through torrential fuzz and distortion.

Lenderman’s frequency is unsettled, even distressed, but in a stylish way and as a band leader he is even keeled and dry with his humor. A vigorous and remarkable guitarist, he was curled over his Gibson in the first song, absolutely hammering the strings. In addition to Hartzman and Chelmis, Jake was joined by drummer Colin Miller, who’s recorded with Lenderman, Indigo De Souza and more, and together this band would do exactly what he’d hoped it would do: it seared with emotion.

Across a disarming version of “Toontown” and through the crooked spray and saucy boogie of “You Have Bought Yourself a Boat,” Lenderman would lead the blast and the bend, and Chelmis would prove to be a crucial and heady presence in each song — maybe it was the funky ceramic stone bar he was using to somehow heighten each note he pulled, but those teary-eyed slides enriched and dramatized every moment.

Watch the official music video for MJ Lenderman’s “You Have Bought Yourself A Boat” via the Dear Life Records YouTube channel:

And it was a special night for Lenderman, an intriguing creator in his early 20s but with the aura of a veteran storyteller. He shared that his family was in the room for this sold-out and anticipated stop.

“My mom, my dad my, my sister — so we’re pretty much related.” Cheering back at him, the crowd spoke to an artist with a rapidly expanding fanbase.

“Is everyone comfortable?” Jake asked a few songs in. The band took sips of beers, and they began sharing in what was an ongoing game of hand gestures, some valid, some made up, but each serving as signals for specific songs on the docket.

They broke out new selections for the crowd, and as they went, the close ear might have heard Jake’s particular blend of influences that ultimately inspired this one-of-its-kind endeavor — now, both MJ and Wednesday are credited as pioneers in a micro-genre known as “countrygaze.”

Whatever it might be, Lenderman steers it in a way that is attracting eyes and ears. His intonation is downtrodden, yet soothing, and it magnetizes with a universal relatability. Combined with Hartzman’s blissful backup presence, as well as her electric rhythm work, it brightened the lyrical poignance of these longing, sarcastic or in some cases grouchy compositions.

Perhaps no better demonstration of Jake’s genius, the track “Someone Get the Grill Out of the Rain” was recorded to his 2021 album Ghost of Your Guitar Solo and registers at just a minute and 13 seconds. While some might propose that a song so brief can’t become a hit, the track has more than 1.7 million streams on Spotify. And at DC9, nearly everyone in the house cried out each agonizing line, eager to share in this unthinkably crushing composition of trivial context.

Listen to MJ Lenderman’s 2021 studio album, Ghost of Your Guitar Solo, via Spotify:

Tracks like the obsessive, winding “You Are Every Girl To Me’’ and the regally frank “Under Control” only reinforced how Lenderman’s 2022 project could land on so many best of lists.

Prior to the album’s release, Jake said in an interview he was maybe most excited about the track “TLC Cage Match,” and anyone who’s been struck by the beauty of the recorded version would undoubtedly agree.

As the set closer at DC9, this song was nothing short of monumental, with Jake resounding as tenuous, afflicted, and sulking amidst the weeping cloud of steel strokes looming over the ongoing and epic struggle that the lyrics depict in and out of the wrestling ring.

With this piece, Jake’s arguably created one of the loveliest and most eternal songs to come out of the pandemic era. While the song in its entirety playfully examines the life cycle of the professional wrestler, some of the individual snippets carry greater relevance:

“That’s why you do what you gotta do / To get through / And I know life will make you crazy … I do” — attendees clung to these words, swaying in the dark space of the second floor.

A skilled and persuasive songwriter, Lenderman’s subject matter itself serves as a captivating decoy, while the track becomes a vessel for something far greater than turnbuckles and steroids, or TV, or basketball sneakers.

Through a ceremonious and eye-opening live presentation of songs that have quickly endeared listeners far and wide, Jake proved why he’s caught on so fast with a leading-edge offering and at such a pivotal time for recorded and live music.

Setlist (incomplete)

You Have Bought Yourself A Boat
New song
Not identified
TV Dinners
Hangover Game
Live Jack
Someone Get The Grill Out of The Rain
Not identified
Catholic Priest
You Are Every Girl To Me
Under Control
TLC Cage Match

Taste Just Like It Costs
One more with Florry

Here are images of MJ Lenderman, along with the night’s opening act, Florry, performing at DC9 on Feb. 3, 2023.

MJ Lenderman at DC9 Washington DC Feb. 3, 2023 Photo by Casey Ryan Vock

MJ Lenderman at DC9 Washington DC Feb. 3, 2023 Photo by Casey Ryan Vock

MJ Lenderman at DC9 Washington DC Feb. 3, 2023 

MJ Lenderman at DC9 Washington DC Feb. 3, 2023 Photo by Casey Ryan Vock  MJ Lenderman at DC9 Washington DC Feb. 3, 2023 Photo by Casey Ryan Vock

MJ Lenderman at DC9 Washington DC Feb. 3, 2023

MJ Lenderman at DC9 Washington DC Feb. 3, 2023

MJ Lenderman at DC9 Washington DC Feb. 3, 2023  MJ Lenderman at DC9 Washington DC Feb. 3, 2023

MJ Lenderman at DC9 Washington DC Feb. 3, 2023


Florry at DC9 Washington DC Feb. 3, 2023


  1. […] The tight-knit posse was playing its second gig in DC, according to Karly, and it was comprised of Jake Lenderman on guitar, Xandy Chelmis on lap and pedal steel, Ethan Baechtold on bass, and Alan Miller on drums. Except for Miller, it represents the majority of those comprising Lenderman’s own acclaimed project — titled MJ Lenderman, it’s another group on the rise that recently visited the District. […]


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