The crowd that welcomed Transviolet to the stage last Saturday, Oct. 24 was modest at best — U Street Music Hall isn’t the biggest venue, and many ticketholders seemed to be waiting for the big name to take the stage later in the night. They didn’t realize, though, that they missed out on a killer opening act.
At first glance, Transviolet looks like the stereotypical indie setup: three men and a woman with a killer fashion sense on guitar, drums, keys and vocals. When it unleashes its sound, however, it’s a dynamic, totally danceable blend of indie and electronic. It has mastered the art of tension-building to the point where the choruses are as satisfying as a good bass drop, and the vocals are an amalgam of the indifference of Lana del Rey, the spunk of Misterwives’s Mandy Lee and the sexy drawl of Tove Lo.
Though the crowd wasn’t very enthusiastic early in the night, the band’s energy never faltered. The band’s frontwoman, Sarah McTaggart, was always moving, adopting the odd, interpretive-dance-y movements common among many of today’s indie frontwomen, at times vibing off the guitar player during instrumental breaks.
Transviolet’s set included songs from its recently released debut EP, and it also unveiled some new material — and from the sounds of it, its got the making of a very strong upcoming album. It built its set to a rousing finish, closing with two of its biggest tracks, “Bloodstream” and “Girls Your Age,” ending with a bang big enough to send even the latecomers trickling to the merch table after the show to snag a CD.
When Mikky Ekko finally hit the stage at 8:15 p.m., the place was packed. The anticipation in the air erupted into screaming and applause like a thunderclap when he finally stepped up to the microphone, and he rolled with that energy straight into some high-intensity songs: “Burning Doves” and “Riot.” Though the transition into the first song was slightly awkward and “Riot” was a little overambitious for so early in the show, these flaws were easy to forget as Ekko’s incredible voice rang out over the soaring alternative dance beats.
After reining in the energy with the more sweeping, emotion-driven “Mourning Doves” — and showing off his impressive falsetto — he took a moment to talk to the crowd and bask in the joy of performing. From there he launched into his two best love songs, tugging on plenty of heartstrings with his aching sincerity and celestial vocal runs.
As if he hadn’t showcased his sensitive side enough, he went straight from crooning “Pull Me Down” and “U” into the gorgeous, low-key acoustic intro of “Time.” As that song built, it became even more clear that he was giving absolutely everything to the music. To sing with that level of urgency and never let up must take a ton of emotional energy; it’s very easy to see how much passion he has for his songs and the act of performing itself.
Each song that followed flaunted a different side of Ekko’s showmanship. “Pressure Pills” was more spoken and rap-inspired, showcasing his lyrical dexterity; “Pretend You Care” ramped up the intensity to a sprint; and “Loner,” with its pleading verses and soaring chorus, let him play with the highs and lows of his vocal range.
He closed the first part of his set with “Watch Me Rise” and “Love You Crazy” and simply walked off, leaving the crowd restless and hungry for more. After a minute or so of cheering and screaming, he came back on stage to an even greater welcome, and proceeded to blow everyone away with a stunning cover of “Stay,” the hit he penned for Rihanna a few years ago. The whole crowd sang along, and the feeling of connection in the room was palpable.
To put the cherry on top of an amazing night, he ended his encore with “Smile,” one of the biggest hits from his debut album and a perfectly paced closer. It gave him plenty of musical room to build to one last epic bridge before bringing it down to an elegant, quiet finish.
Sure, it wasn’t perfect. Ekko still has a lot of work to do in effectively pacing his sets and transitioning between songs. But it’s clear that this guy has an energy and passion that can take him places, and it certainly made for a fantastic show.
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