I didn’t realize that I was standing next to Dean, of Dead Emerson, as his band gathered on stage for his opening set last week at DC9, and was therefore very startled when he leapt out of the audience and onto the stage, launching into his brand-new song “American Dreaming.” Although the song started out relatively calmly, by the chorus he was jumping around the stage, with both him, his fans, and friends in the audience screaming. The energy stayed at this high for the rest of his thirty-minute set, and it was a great way to kick off the night. After ending the set with his song “Sucker Punch,” the audience was left excited and riled up for Oh He Dead and Medium Build to follow.
Dead Emerson was followed by the local D.C. band, Oh He Dead, who opened with their song “This Time Around.” Despite the shift from the very chaotic energy of Dead Emerson, the crowd was immediately enveloped in the heavenly voice of lead singer CJ Johnson and her harmonies with singer/guitarist Andy Valenti. The band played several new songs in addition to many from their 2019 self-titled album, including one of their most popular songs, “Lonely Sometimes.” In between, they chatted and joked with the audience, and talked about some of their creative processes, for example for their song “Is It My Love?” which was inspired by CJ’s love for gin. The percussion and groovy basslines had the audience, including myself, dancing and swaying to the beat from start to finish.
As they neared the end of their set, Oh He Dead was joined by the Alaskan native Medium Build himself, Nick Carpenter, clad in a sparkly blue sequined mask. He and Oh He Dead launched into Carpenter’s song “99 Corolla.” It was clear that the two groups were having the absolute best time, and this energy was contagious.
Carpenter had an immediately endearing personality and began his set by cracking jokes. For example, at one point, he noted that we were joined in the audience by his partner and her family, but prefaced the song he was planning on singing to her by saying, “My mom thought I couldn’t write a love tune, and she’s right.” That being said, the song was sweet and sincere. Carpenter had no backup members with him and played the accompanying drums on what he referred to as a “robot” at his feet. This song, however, was accompanied by chirping birds. Even with Carpenter performing as a solo act, he held the full attention of everyone in the audience.
Towards the middle of the set, Carpenter started taking requests from the crowd, which he described as “yeeting the setlist.” Many audience members requested his earlier, more acoustic and folksy work, such as his songs “Wild” and “Selfish.” Carpenter noted how much he had grown since having released these earlier works, and hinted at new music coming soon. Overall, Carpenter’s setlist switched back and forth between sweet, folk songs about his hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, for example, and a more energetic pop style, such as in “Be Your Boy,” and “Good at Being Lonely.” His lyrics felt clever and heartfelt. One of my favorites, from “Be Your Boy,” is a question Medium Build poses: “Would you still read me even if I was required?”
Carpenter ended the set with his new song, “Rabbit,” joined by Andy Valenti of Oh He Dead for some beautiful harmonies.
I had the chance to speak with Nick Carpenter after the show, and he was just as charismatic and funny as on stage. Overall, this was an excellent way to get back into live music after so many months away, and I will certainly be eager to hear more from all the artists from this evening. Be sure to check out Dead Emerson, Oh He Dead, and Medium Build on Spotify!