U Street Music Hall is one of the most intimate venues you’ll find in D.C.—no seats, no barricade. On November 20th, it turned out to be the perfect place for Sheppard and ROMES to hold their concert. The indie pop/rock bands’ small, but passionate horde of fans seemed to fill the space with their joyous shouts and carefree dance moves, resulting in a welcome escape from the chill, still night outside.
ROMES, a quartet that hails from Ontario, kicked off the party. Clad in dark pants and leather jackets, looking intense under the stage lights, they presented themselves as quintessentially “cool” musicians—yet as the night went on, they shone smiles toward the crowd and even engaged in some laid-back dance moves, gradually making themselves more endearing. In terms of both their sleek aesthetic and their sound, their performance reminded me of Nightly, who took to the Rams’ Head Live! stage in May. Just like the up-and-coming Nashville duo, they played glossy, neatly structured songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on mainstream radio, but their rock influences were still evident. This was especially clear during set highlight “Spend the Night,” a song whose melodramatic lyrics were outshone by its irresistible ‘70s vibe. It was a particularly great showcase of all four members’ talents. From the start, drummer Nicolas Amadeus kept the energy high with his powerful percussion and bassist Andrew Keyes added to the urgent mood with his bassline; then singer Jacob Alexander came in with graceful falsetto vocals; then guitarist James Tebbitt stole the show during a mid-song instrumental section. Closing songs “Believe” and “Tryna Be” were also crowd-pleasers, the former vaguely Muse-like with its assertive, defiant tone and the latter balancing EDM flourishes with funky guitars.
After a brief break, Sheppard took the stage. Their vibe was immediately distinguishable from the one ROMES gave off. Whereas the men of ROMES were wearing black, the Sheppard crew was dressed in brightly colored, summery clothing, which was just as indicative of their upbeat vibe as it was of their Australian identity. Right at the beginning of their set, they sang their newest single—“Coming Home,” a song that contains pure feel-good lyrics like “Meet me in the valley where the kids collide into the morning.” Shortly after came “Edge of the Night,” another recent release. When lead male vocalist George Sheppard sang, “Don’t tell me you can’t find time to party,” the crowd listened and loosened up. And how could it not? The song sounded like the kind of tune you might hear during the credits sequence of a fun film, boasting the disco vibe that artists like Justin Timberlake and DNCE have utilized. The fact that both vocalists (George and Amy Sheppard) were dancing with abandon added to the sense of glee in the room, as well. It made sense that three of the band members (George, Amy, and bassist Emma Sheppard) were siblings; their natural camaraderie was undeniable.
Ultimately, my main takeaway from Sheppard’s set was that their apparent cheer seems truly genuine. Some of their lyrics—such as the ones in the aforementioned “Coming Home”—might come across as shockingly idealistic to listeners. Nevertheless, their down-to-earth smiles and energetic stage presence make you believe what they’re saying and want to root for them. It was hard not to be captivated by their confidence as they sang songs like cute duet “Call Me Up” and live-for-the-moment anthem “Riding the Wave,” clearly not needing Autotune to sound flawless. Also endearing were the sincere comments George occasionally made before songs, such as “It’s about home being a person rather than a place. I know it’s cheesy, but…”
This review would also be incomplete without some mention of Sheppard’s enthusiastic fans. They knew every word to every song (not just “Geronimo,” the band’s one platinum hit in the US); they shouted out compliments and encouragement, sounding like an adoring Twitter reply section; they danced as if no one was watching. Indeed, they were nearly the most passionate crowd of fans I’ve ever seen at a show, second only to Twenty One Pilots fans.
All in all, seeing ROMES and Sheppard was a good way to spend a Monday night. Both bands were comprised of skilled musicians who were not only talented, but also entertaining to watch. If you’re looking for a concert where you can feel free to jump up and down and have a fun time even if you don’t know the lyrics, keep an eye on these bands’ touring schedules.