It’s been nearly a year since Lucius first captured our attention. On Thursday evening, the quintet was back at Washington, D.C.’s Rock and Roll Hotel, showing repeat members of their audience that their unique sound and stage presence has continued to evolve. Their show a year ago was really good; this show was great.
At a tender moment of a nascent career — their debut album is just two days old — Lucius is astoundingly good. They join the excellent company of bands like Savages and Haim, offering a fully-formed aesthetic upon release of their first album. They do so in an endearing fashion, the sublime beauty of their harmonic compositions supplemented by their sustained joie de vivre. They are, already, a band you must see live.
Knowingly, the masses have converged on a Thursday evening at Rock and Roll Hotel for the commencement of the tour supporting the band’s fantastic debut, Wildewoman. To say that this show is sold out does not adequately describe how damn crowded the venue is; it’s as densely packed as the initial Sleigh Bells show in D.C. a few years back. It’s also hot as hell, but worth it for a slice of musical heaven.
Alpen Glow gets things going before a largely full room at a relatively early hour, giving the audience harmonies that are one-part Band of Horses and one-part Milo Greene (a band to which Lucius has served as deputy). They specialize in beautiful harmonies, but their set construction in particular (they end with a song that never really hits a stride or reaches a crescendo) indicates they are not quite ready for a headlining role. There is something to them though, and they are a band worth watching.
Lucius takes the stage, attired in matching male and female outfits that reflect the unison-heavy nature of the songs themselves. This band is tight, audibly and visually. Tonight, we’re seeing the ladies in green jackets and blond bobs while the males on stage are mustachioed. The visual element of the show is most striking for its simplicity. It’s a throwback to ‘60s girl groups with a touch of soul, but the only choreography involves synchronized percussion.
Their show has now added percussive intros and additional atmospherics — especially around some of the more minimalist tracks heard here a year ago, tracks like “Turn It Around,” “Go Home,” and “Don’t Just Sit There.” Their layered approach creates an effect that is much more than the sum of its parts — at times it’s hard to believe that such a sparse stage setup is creating such sprawling sound. Steady, repetitious percussion sets each song’s pace and becomes the audience’s pulse, beating breathily and vibrantly before receding dutifully to make room for the vocals. It’s almost as if the percussion and vocals take turns; the crowd rocks and nods along in time with the toms, leaning in as the women of Lucius sing.
The band’s evolution in the past year is most evident on songs like “Hey, Doreen” and “Tempest,” both released as singles and both a bit different musical tack than the standouts of their set a year ago. Tonight, the band sounds more complex, more layered, maybe even more serious. At its heart, though, the Lucius sound still involves incredibly tight vocal harmonies and even tighter toms. It’s a simple equation, but one that leaves no room for error. As this tour begins, Lucius makes no noticeable mistakes.
The moments are many, the pauses less pregnant than poignant, and the cacophony fully controlled. Luckily, the audience is mostly enraptured, meaning that there is minimal chit chat to mar the quieter moments. Minimal chit chat during the show, yes, but a tangible buzz resonates well after they’ve left the stage to graciously mingle with their fans. That buzz is the inevitable result of their obvious and burgeoning talent, and it will surely put Lucius in front of larger audiences as their career continues to evolve.
Maeve Ward also contributed to this review.