BY CAROLINA CARMO //
At the start of the show she demanded that we not speak. Mid-show she commanded us to let out our loudest, most cathartic screams. “The people in here are alive, I hear that.”
L’Rain, who put out one of the most acclaimed albums of last year, just finished the tour of that album, Fatigue, at Songbyrd Music House on Oct. 2. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced live, and I’m convinced it will be unlike anything I will ever experience at a concert again.
Taja Cheek, known onstage as L’Rain, is a Brooklyn-born musician and experimentalist. Fatigue brings together a variety of samples, conversations, instrumentals and vocals into an entrancing and full-sounding body of work. My favorite track, “Find It,” features hypnotic looping and Cheek’s entrancing vocals, mixed with moody cymbals and brass, closing with Cheek’s masterful control of samples and voice memos.
Songbyrd Music House is a little venue in Union Market. The space is intimate and cool, with stickers and posters from past acts covering the corners of the room. My favorite part of the venue is a big screen to the right of the bar that projects a still from the film Almost Famous. It’s the shot of Philip Seymour Hoffman sitting with his back to the screen in a room filled with records and it’s the perfect frame for the back of a small concert venue.
Cheek opened the show asking the crowd to come closer to the stage and establishing one clear rule: no talking. She asked us to actively note our presence in the room, and to be present in this crowd that would never be replicated in the same exact way again. There were maybe 50 or 60 people in the audience that night (including DC musician Bartees Strange!).
Once the music started there was nothing I wanted to do more than shut up and listen to her and the band play. The moments where I was looking at the entire stage at once, especially when they intensified and crescendoed at the tail end of songs. It felt like the sound was everywhere, pushing in, beautifully encompassing, flooding the room with green, filling the spaces between and around us.
The bass lines were some of the most exciting parts of the show. And especially so when Cheek herself picked up the bass like during “Suck Teeth.” The percussion followed and created an incredible sound that framed the performance of the song, ending with Cheek and the guitarist on the right doing a back and forth improvised bit; it looked like each musician was flaunting to the other how brilliant they were.
There were songs where Cheek let out guttural screams, a moment where the guitarist on the left stepped off to the wings of the stage but kept playing, the ending of a song where Cheek was commanding the cymbals by waving her right arm down again and again and again. I tried not to blink so as not to miss her next move.
The show was loud, encompassing, full. A sound, a feeling, an experience my headphones will never be able to replicate.