Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, empires, and Kate Myers at the Rock n’ Roll Hotel in Washington DC
As the first opener, Kate Myers brought a special brand of country-tinged folk. Her heartfelt set was especially intimate considering she didn’t have a backing band. it was just Kate and her guitar on that stage, and she was captivating. Her songs were simple and almost wholesome, her sweet voice filled with hope. A high point for me was For My Family, a touching song that felt as personal as peering into her childhood photo albums. Telling us about her family and their support created an instant closeness for the listeners, and a connection to her and her life. It was a unique kind of performer-fan bond.
Empires picked up the pace, playing smooth new cuts from their upcoming record, Orphan. Their months in the studio had created an eagerness for the band to display the new songs, and, as always, they did not disappoint! The sound they showcased brimmed with confidence, though less of a frenetic grunge feel and more of a classic-rock one. The new songs were cohesive, and there was a steady, sustained energy exuding from all the band members. The performance was a slow burn, with singer Sean Van Vleet flailing around markedly less than usual, but the tone of the set fit perfectly with the sound. Earnestness and power have always been the cornerstones of Empires’ music, and the song Shadow showed just how much the band has learned to utilize those resonant qualities. All the pieces fit together: the steady backbeat of the drums, the scream and grind of the guitars, the vulnerable crooning. Despite the vulnerability, though, the word that came to my mind was swagger — the kind of confidence that develops from knowing when to shake loose, and when to leave the audience reaching, aching for more.
Even Spit the Dark — a setlist staple and the first song the band wrote together — shone anew with the band’s confidence. It was the most evocative moment of the night, in a night full of evocative, hard-hitting moments. Spit the Dark is a journey in and of itself, starting stark with a gentle drumbeat and simple chords, energy building and building. The lyrics become more intense as the music grows to surround you, and before you know it, you’ve become swept up in the song, swallowed whole by it. It carries you, and you’re not afraid, can’t remember a time you’ve ever been afraid. There is so much comfort in its wild joy, its fierce reckless hope. I’ve seen this song performed many times, and each time it gets more meaningful. In DC that night, the best bit of Spit the Dark was seeing the sheer startled joy on their faces when the audience nearly drowned the band out with their collective voice.
As a band, Empires has finally found its niche. When their star rises, it’s going to shoot up — far and fast and very, very bright.
Margot and the Nuclear So-and-So’s shines in any genre it dares to step in. The band has the ability to combine chamber pop, aggressive grunge, and soft acoustics in a single album, in a single set, and they make it all work seamlessly. No matter what sound they choose, a Margot song is always visceral: a rawness you feel in your chest and your gut. You feel the longing, the desperation, and the angst as if it were your own. Seeing the band live amplifies that feeling, as you can see all of those emotions expressed, playing out on singer Richard Edwards’ face.
The band opened on a mellow note: the dreamy rose-colored glasses of Hello San Francisco. It was bittersweet, as many Margot songs are, hinting at darkness in lines like, let’s throw our bones away, nestled in alongside baby, I don’t ever wanna die. When You’re Gone, another new song, had the audience swaying along with the delicate instrumentals and Richard’s mournful voice. The band commanded our attention next with the unmistakable Bleary Eye-d Blue, a resonant guitar-driven song that spiked the energy onstage and off. (Interestingly enough, Margot has released an alternate version of Blue with their Tell Me About Evil film. It’s impressive how the band can pair rough lyrics about drugs and rebellion with multiple grinding guitars, as well as one gentle acoustic; both versions are raw and authentic, in their own ways.)
Even though the band’s newest release — Slingshot to Heaven — has been praised by critics and fans, the older songs were the ones that got the strongest reaction from the crowd. On a Freezing Chicago Street, Broadripple is Burning, and Talking in Code were all from Margot’s first album, the beloved Dust of Retreat. Those intimate songs gave the audience a time to shine, letting them lay a haunting undertone beneath Richard’s words. It gave me goosebumps. A number of rowdier songs — The Devil, Shannon — held their weight on the setlist; these songs, especially, brimmed with conviction. When Richard screamed, “I ain’t afraid of the devil”, it was impossible for any of us to doubt him.
The Margot set made me feel like like I was on a roller-coaster ride. Though the setlist flowed organically, it was a new experience to be stomping to the drumbeat one moment, and humming along with the rapt crowd the very next. Crying and shouting, whispering and dancing — Margot elicited a range of reactions that was honestly, admirable. The band portrays both bitter and sweet in a way that’s so beautiful and so resonant, it sneaks up on you. Lines like “she had tumbleweed love for everyone” and “standing somewhere old with a mood ring” might not mean much at first, until that click, and then they mean everything.
It’s definitely a ride I would love to take again.
photo credit and review by Eliana Siegal
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