Few experiences can be likened to seeing a live performance of a band you’ve never listened to, at a venue you’ve never heard of, with a group of people you’ve never met. I found myself in such a situation on November 16 at DC9, when I saw post-punk band Preoccupations for a group project in my History of Rock class. While this was not my first time seeing a band live with no prior knowledge of their music, nor the most interesting—100 gecs last year takes that spot hands down—it was the most intimate musical experience I’ve had at a concert in D.C. and an auspicious welcome to DC9.
If not for my group-mates who had been to the venue before, I don’t think I would have been able to pick it out from the surrounding buildings. Modest, gray, and a little run-down, DC9’s dusty vibe paired well with the energy of the many concertgoers, who were generally clad in flannels and dark-colored hoodies. The entrance of the building opened to a typical bar setting, with stairs that led up to a second darker barroom and a small stage close to the ground.
On this stage, all the guitar pedals and equipment were easily in view, and as a guitarist and pedal nerd in training, I was fascinated. I had never been able to catch such a close-up view of a band’s specific gear before, so the opportunity to geek out about the various pedals I recognized did not go unappreciated. This aspect of DC9 alone was sufficient to earn my love and future patronage.
The opening act, “confrontation pop” artist Cindy Lee, rightly disappointed most of the audience, save a few obviously stoned, grinning teenagers close to the stage. A weak guitarist and an uninspiring singer, Cindy Lee gave a lackluster performance that seemed to turn off most in the crowd. Most concertgoers seemed to awkwardly sway and nod their heads out of fear of offending the artist rather than in appreciation of the performance. The focus of Cindy Lee’s act seemed not to exist in the sound or lyrics, but rather in the drag stage persona and aggressive eye contact she was making with those close to the stage. While a valid form of artistic expression, the intimacy of the encounter seemed excessive to most in the crowd and would manifest itself better at a larger venue with more space between the performer and the audience.
The main act, however, did not disappoint. After walking to the stage through the crowd—as there is literally no backstage—Preoccupations began their set with a front-to-back rendition of their latest album, Arrangements, which came out in September of 2022. The crowd was headbanging and jumping up and down, erupting with euphoric cheers and applause whenever a song ended. Despite almost no one knowing the lyrics to these new songs, the atmosphere was uplifting and churchlike as the band preached their hard-hitting yet harmonic message to an eager congregation. When they finished playing the album, the band transitioned into their various hits from the past seven years, which most of the audience knew and sang along to.
Throughout the performance, I was struck by the role that the bass guitar played in Preoccupations’ complex sound. Most bassists stick to a simple underlying bass line to provide a foundation for the other instruments to build upon, typically playing only one note at a time. However, bassist/vocalist Matt Flegel frequently utilized the harmonic and melodic capacity of his instrument, often playing chords and double stops or providing the main melody. Furthermore, the combination of conventional guitar tones and the synth swells and swoops created an intricate yet grounded soundscape that a first-time listener like me could find both familiar and revolutionary.
Overall, I had a great time, and I only wish that the opening act was more inspiring. I am going to peruse the DC9 schedule to hopefully find a band I’m familiar with to see there in the future, and I would encourage anyone looking for a similar intimate concert to check out this exciting venue.
James is a sophomore in the College and is majoring in History and Government.