Concert photos by Reann Philogene
When I arrived at the Rock and Roll Hotel for the Bad Suns concert, I knew immediately that my night would be full of energy and excitement. A sign read “SOLD OUT,” and the line to get into the venue was so long that I heard a passerby commenting, “It looks like a Justin Bieber show or something.” Although I’ve never been to a Bieber concert, I understand what he was saying. The level of dedication demonstrated by the California alt-rockers’ fans was certainly impressive. As I chatted with the girls waiting by the entrance, I learned that many had traveled to D.C. from other East Coast states, and even more had seen the band multiple times. Their enthusiasm led me to predict that the show would be one of my favorite concerts of 2016. I’m happy to report that my prediction was correct.
COIN, an indie pop band from Nashville, kicked off the festivities. After taking the stage, vocalist and synth player Chase Lawrence bent over his instrument and sent a wave of ambient noise sweeping across the room, leaving the audience eagerly anticipating what would follow. Then a bold yellow light shone over the band, and they launched into an effervescent rendition of “Atlas,” a song from their self-titled first album. It soon became clear that COIN was set on bringing new wave into the twenty-first century, and they intended to do it with style and gusto. Lawrence assumed the role of engaging frontman with ease, playing air guitar, telling the crowd to jump with him, and holding the hands of girls in the front row. When he sang, “I don’t want to dance”—a line from an exciting new song—I couldn’t help but smile at the irony of the moment, as he was clearly having the time of his life moving joyfully to the beat. In addition to Lawrence’s adeptness as a performer, Zachary Dyke’s groovy, inventive basslines captured my attention. Listening to their splendor, I resolved not to sleep on the upcoming COIN record when it’s released.
Between COIN and Bad Suns, the venue played ’70s and ’80s hits over its speakers, and the audience members—the vast majority of whom were ’90s kids—sang along. This intriguing sense of juxtaposition of past and present was strengthened when Bad Suns arrived and began to play its infectiously new-wave-y hits, which gave the band a retro vibe without detracting from its modern, edgy coolness. The first song on the setlist was “Disappear Here,” the title track of the band’s new album. It served as the perfect theme song for the night. While the crowd shouted out every lyric as if the song were a classic, primary-colored lights flashed onstage, mirroring the aesthetic of the song’s music video. Right away, I knew that Bad Suns was just as amazing as everyone had expected—no, even better.
Christo Bowman was not simply the band’s vocalist—he was also one of its guitarists. He never used his instrument as a crutch, however, and moved fluidly with the music, matching the verve of even the most passionate fans as he bounced up and down and bobbed his head from side to side. Ray Libby, the other guitarist, and Gavin Bennett, the bassist, were similarly energetic. Even though Miles Morris, the drummer, couldn’t move as freely as the other band members could, he, too, was clearly doing what he loved as he focused intently on banging his drums.
One of the show’s highlights was “Daft Pretty Boys,” a single from Disappear Here. The song opened delicately with lyrics about a sunrise. Then the music sped up and a crescendo ensued, and the room became a glamorous disco complete with frenetic guitar riffs, color-changing lights, and soaring falsetto vocals. Another memorable moment occurred when Bowman sang part of the pensive Bad Suns rarity “Twenty Years” before transitioning into the more upbeat “Off She Goes,” a celebratory anthem abut believing in yourself. “Maybe We’re Meant to Be Alone” was also a standout. Although it’s currently the slowest ballad in Bad Suns’ catalogue, it was far from banal due to its unique, Police-inspired sound and Bowman’s calls for audience participation, which were met with glee.
Fortunately for longtime fans, the setlist included several songs from the band’s first album, Language and Perspective. One of these was “We Move Like the Ocean,” an emotive, yet incredibly catchy vignette of a love as powerful and as dangerous as violent waves. Another was “Cardiac Arrest.” This song is one of the band’s most well-known singles, and with good reason. Heard live, Bowman’s desperate-sounding staccato vocals were especially powerful, and the song’s melodic guitar part crafted a captivating atmosphere of suspense.
During the band’s encore, Bowman leapt into the crowd, which created quite a stir among the fans. Then he returned to the stage for two more songs, including “Heartbreaker,” a deceptively buoyant-sounding gem of a single that wouldn’t sound out of place on a collection of The Cure’s greatest hits.
When the show was over, I found myself ruminating on some of the words Bowman had spoken to the audience—”Welcome to the party. You’ll fit right in.” Next time Bad Suns throws a party in town, I thought to myself, I’ll RSVP promptly.