A couple of months ago, Baltimore-based outfit Lower Dens put out one of the year’s best releases in Nootropics (which I reviewed here.) Having heard the news that they were headlining a tour that included a stop in southern California, I was definitely excited to finally see them live. And apparently so was Orange County as the Constellation Room in Santa Ana was a sold out show on Friday night.
Led by frontwoman/guitarist/keyboardist Jana Hunter, Lower Dens brought their signature blend of shoegaze, krautrock, and post-rock that pretty much destroyed the ear drums of anyone within range. They opened the set with “Blue & Silver” from their debut album and followed it up with the mid-tempo number “Candy” where the tremolo-filled guitar riffs sounded as lively and blistering in a live setting as it does on record. While it is a short song with minimal structure, hearing the bass chords in person made their set a bit more brooding.
The combination of “Brains” and “Stem” came next, getting their singles out of the way early on in their set. “Brains” is easily one of the best singles this year and they proved why on Friday night. It’s a tension builder filled with many layers of catchy rhythms created by drummer Nate Nelson and synths by Hunter. Bassist Geoffrey Graham and Hunter harmonized their vocals well enough to not get drowned out behind the instrumentation that got louder and louder as the song progressed to a close.
Though it was early on in the set, the crowd was always mesmerized by what they were seeing on stage. That’s the beauty of Lower Dens – their ability to create music that’s ridiculously hypnotic that you can’t even look away. “Lion in Winter Pt. 1 & 2,” with the first part serving as an instrumental intro to the more upbeat and bouncing electronic beat of part two that got a few people in the crowd to dance.
“Propagation” featured a heavier effect of reverb on Hunter’s vocals that echoed throughout the room, while “Batman” and “Hospice Gates” were older songs filled with fuzzy and jangly guitars reminiscent of the surf rock sound (appropriate since Santa Ana is near the coast).
They closed out their set a couple of slow-churners in “Nova Anthem” and “In the End is the Beginning,” with the latter being an epic 12 minutes in length. Hunter’s transcendent vocals blended very well with rhythm created by the bass and rhythm that created a rather surreal and dream-like moment. It would seem to play a song of great length would be the best way to end a set, but Lower Dens still had a couple more songs left in them, coming back on stage for a two-song encore – “Rosie” and “A Dog’s Dick.” The pair from the album Twin Hand Movement was a perfect way to end a near hour-and-ten-minute long set, with the former witnessing Hunter’s voice soaring above the instrumentation and displaying her vocal range while the latter featured dueling guitars between William Adams and Hunter, which were laden with effects that brought to mind 80s psychedelic rock.
Lower Dens put on a spectacular performance on Friday night, making it one of the best shows I’ve been to this year. Their ability to control their instruments and the music that they create is quite impressive. If you haven’t had the chance to see them live, I strongly suggest that you do, especially if you’re looking for a musical experience rather than a typical live show.
Blue & Silver
I Get Nervous
Lion in Winter Pt. 1 & 2
In the End is the Beginning
A Dog’s Dick