On Nov. 9, an uneasy fog had settled over Washington, D.C. Words could not seem to encapsulate the depths of what many were feeling following one of the most contentious presidential elections in history.
That night, indie rock band Grouplove played a near-perfect set at Echostage, reminding attendees of the healing, unifying nature of music. This power of music is not lost upon the members of the band, four of which — Christian Zucconi, Hannah Hooper, Ryan Rabin and Andrew Wessen — met at a commune in Greece. Formed in 2009, the band has since released three albums, the latest of which, “Big Mess,” came out September this year.
However, the night started out on a rough note. The first opening act was Toronto-based punk rock group Dilly Dally. Lead singer Katie Monks used raspy speak-singing techniques and blood-curdling shrieks to add to the unsettling nature of the band’s music. Though powerful and reminiscent of D.C.’s famous hardcore punk scene of the late ’80s, the style did not sit well with an audience expecting bouncy indie-pop melodies.
Some crowd members tentatively nodded their heads, while most stood still, failing to connect with the feedback-filled electric guitar riffs and vocal mix that featured more speaking and screaming than singing.
After Dilly Dally, the audience found a welcome change in MUNA, a funky synthpop band from Los Angeles. Its set, which included its hit song “Winterbreak,” lightened the atmosphere of the venue and excited the increasingly large crowd. Frontwoman Katie Gavin, with her wobbly dance moves, hauntingly beautiful vocals and high energy, stole the hearts and attention of concertgoers. Gavin continuously addressed the election in between songs with statements like: “Tonight, the best thing we can do is be there for each other.”
The band’s music spoke louder than words. Honest emotion shone in the members’ faces when they passionately sang the lyrics, “Well, I’ve seen many a friend be silenced/Thinking nobody would believe them/Well, baby you’ve got another thing coming/You can try to make me stop, call it delusion/But I don’t shut up, it’s revolution.” Before closing with “Loudspeaker,” Gavin noted, “hatred can be really loud and we have to work extra hard to love people really loudly.”
Following MUNA’s set, the audience was buzzing with excitement. “Come Together” by The Beatles played on the speakers as the crowd sang along in unison. Finally, the members of Grouplove ran onstage as the scent of incense filled the air. Lead singer and guitarist Zucconi, matching singer Hooper in an army green, knee-length shirt, immediately sat down at the keyboard and began to play the song “I’m With You.” The sparkling lights and palpable musical intensity, from the moment the band stepped onstage, promised a memorable show.
Though the whole band clicked musically and emotionally, Zucconi’s stage presence felt like the glue that held the members together. Rather than being overbearing or flashy, during most songs he let Hooper’s high-energy dancing take the lead.
Zucconi’s characteristic belt and ease inspired awe and created an honest connection between the band and audience throughout the entire show. This interplay reached a peak when Zucconi crowd-surfed during a cover of the The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” When security attempted to help him onto the stage, he jumped right back into the crowd for a second trip through the audience.
The long set was full of upbeat Grouplove classics like “Colours,” “Tongue Tied” and “Itchin’ on a Photograph.” However, the one song that was the most memorable and meaningful was less-known, and one the band had never played at a concert before. Zucconi announced that, in light of the election, the band had decided to play an acoustic, intimate version of “Cruel and Beautiful World.” They stood in a line at the edge of the stage — as close to the audience as they could get — and the sense of togetherness was overwhelming.
Following this tender, introspective interlude, Grouplove returned to its upbeat hits, with “Let Me In” and “Do You Love Someone.” Themes of positivity, hope and love were evident in many of its lyrics and through the interactions of Zucconi and Hooper, who are romantic partners with a one-year-old daughter.
“Cathartic. That’s what tonight is. It feels so f—–g good just to be together as one unit, in D.C. of all places,” Hooper told the audience.
The concert ended with “Welcome to Your Life,” from the new album, and the band returned for an encore, finishing with its hit “Ways to Go.” The sense of hope and wonder in the room cut through any pain and despair audience members were feeling, if only inside the walls of Echostage. The energy throughout Grouplove’s performance was proof that, in one way or another, music really does heal.
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