Photos by Julia Leiby
It’s a difficult task to tread the performative line between raw and rough in the context of alternative rock. Everyone enjoys a level of aesthetically-unprofessional grit behind an electric guitar, but there’s a definitive line at which the experience becomes unsavory.
Last Sunday’s three band bill at DC9 was a show that, whether intentionally or not, sought to explore the space between the two polarities, featuring an all-star bill of local outfit Foozle, Columbus’ All Dogs, and New York’s LVL UP. While each band is known for DIY elements in their respective regards, the ways in which the artists mitigated their grungier aspects in a live performance space provided for three wholly unique sets, and never left a dull moment.
Baltimore’s Foozle started the evening by leading those present through the content philosophical outlook of frontman Jake Lazovick, who stressed the importance of “being content in your own boredom” as the band launched into “Nice Day.” Foozle’s slacker-zen is enjoyable, but combined with their kitschy tongue-in-cheek stage presence, it’s hard not to fall in love.
The group’s set was comprised mainly of the recently-released Romantic Comedies, and was characterized by interesting stage choreography that tread between serious and silly; at one point, Lazovick leaned into the venue wall to play a solo guitar pattern while using his foot to intentionally mess with the cymbals of drummer Ryan Witt (Witt responded in turn by moving from his set to alter Lazovick’s effect pedals). Overall, the homely, easygoing sense of sad interconnectedness that permeated the three-person group made for an enjoyable, if not sobering, performance.
The candor of Foozle was followed more abruptly by the electric drive of All Dogs, whose current tour kicked off this past Thursday. The group opted for a deep red light, crafting a dramatic entry during the soft intro of “The Garden,” from last year’s Kicking Every Day. This softer introductory treatment was immediately altered as All Dogs shifted gears into “Sunday Morning,” a set stand-out. All Dogs’ loud performance within the smaller space, in addition to their pop-punk sensibilities, seemed remarkably constrained live, possibly because the intricacies of the band’s layered instrumentation required a certain stillness in concentration.
Regardless, more so than their last D.C. performance at Comet Ping Pong, it was surprising to see music with such drive sound meticulous and energetic at the same time. And while the set was limited primarily to music, lead vocalist Maryn Jones found time to pepper in humorous anecdotes revolved around playing a show in the DMV several years ago with Lazovick, in addition to discussing the somewhat unfortunate lack of air conditioning in the tour van.
While initially slated for a 10:30 p.m. performance, LVL UP opted not to squander the opportunity to take the stage early, leading off with “Angel From Space” off their most recent full-length, Hoodwink’d. As so much of LVL UP’s sound relies on syncopation among vocalists Mike Caridi, Dave Benton, and Nick Corbo in tandem with bass and drum, it was initially disappointing that elements of their maximalism did not transfer sonically at DC9. However, with adjustments throughout the set, the group hit their stride as they began to perform tracks from their forthcoming record, Return to Love.
Regarding LVL UP’s new sound, singles like “Pain” and “Hidden Driver” indicated a shift towards a synth-driven, more percussively upbeat sound, elements that became the defining characteristics of the evening’s performance. Seemingly true to their name, a handful of tunes from the band’s performance featured a retro chiptune keyboard alongside more acoustic guitar textures. It’s difficult to comment on how the new sound will transfer in record form given the depth of instrumental elements orchestrated in the performance, but if LVL UP manages to capture a sliver of the performance’s energy, it will likely supersede Hoodwink’d.
Despite the intensity and raw features of their performance, the most memorable part of their set was the fun, easygoing spirit the band brought to D.C. Even through “fuck-ups” and tempo shifts during performances of “I Feel Extra Natural,” or the last minute on-stage decision to not play “Stoned Alone,” the sloppiest elements of LVL UP’s performance couldn’t help but make you feel like you were in on the joke – and that makes all the errors worth it in the end.