And the review begins with an act of contrition.
Before I dive into my first impressions of HOLYCHILD‘s live show last Tuesday, let me clarify – this band deserves to be in heavy rotation on your playlists and 2015 will be a huge year for them. Do not miss the opportunity to see them live and talk with singer Liz Nistico for a few minutes (she is one of the warmest rising stars you can meet), because they will soon catch on in a massive way and she won’t be able to helm her own merch table. At some point, they will land a commercial or a feature on the ‘Girls’ soundtrack.
That said, I need to come clean about how this review was shaping up in my head during the first few minutes of HOLYCHILD’s set at Concord. Their debut EP, Mindspeak, is a confection in every sense of the word – sweet, brightly packaged, easily accessible (if not always able to offer a great deal of sustenance). The album’s cover is a chocolate donut covered in candy; the metaphor writes itself. The four tracks balance a showcase of Louie Diller’s keen ear for driving pop and Nistico’s energetic presentation of tried-and-true subject matter (falling in love, trying to be herself, feeling heard and seen by her partner). I don’t know why, but I somehow pictured the duo in skinny jeans, hipper than I’d ever be, keeping a bit of ironic distance between themselves and their experiments in ‘brat pop’, their self-assigned Soundcloud genre.
HOLYCHILD did not match what I was expecting. They are a ragtag four piece, all over the spectrum as far as “image” is concerned. Diller wore a baseball jersey and jeans, the touring drummer (behind a kit decked out in pink fluff) was ‘chill’ incarnate, and their guitarist held down the conservative angle in a button up buttoned all the way up. Nistico, very purposefully, bounced around the stage with the effervescence and style of a hip-hop Baby Spice in her Adidas track suit and matching creepers.
Whether it was their bold push out the gate to overcome nerves or the blinding sheen of the first few songs, I was just overstimulated. The things that made me uncomfortable while listening to Mindspeak (namely, the depths at which Nistico’s relationship with feminism is buried under lyrics that place her self-worth at the whims of her beaus) were only heightened by the eau de Spears that surrounded Nistico’s initial onstage persona. It was endearing, like watching your sister, but it just wasn’t working for me. Not that I have any right to dictate what a woman’s relationship to feminism should be (patriarchy much, Dan?), but from a cultural standpoint I began to wonder if HOLYCHILD’s music could be more overtly empowering while remaining accessible. Sure, ‘Playboy Girl’ attempts to balance this out by tackling female objectification, but it is weakened by its proximity to the defeatist tracks that surround it in their catalog.
Then HOLYCHILD broke into their new material and everything changed.
If there were shades of tUnE-yArDs at the heart of Mindspeak‘s rhythm, the tracks they debuted that night could find very easy company with Merrill’s most tribal. Sonically, these songs reached deeper, finding a flow that transcended their presentation. The entire band began buzzing with authentic excitement and I realized that the thing that bothered me most about the preceding half-set was its conventionality. This new aesthetic proved that HOLYCHILD is better than that, smarter and more cutting. Suddenly, Nistico seemed more at home and in control – the bounciness gave way to raw kinetics. Her confidence soared as she tore through vocal runs, finding really wonderful opportunities to utilize the looper that had gone mostly untouched.
As she began to open up on stage, Nistico’s relationship with the audience became more personal (though it had doubled in size since they began their set). Before their last two songs, she shared how exciting this stop in Chicago was for her, having told Diller years ago that it was her dream to play the Windy City. The audience was happy to oblige – by this point, HOLYCHILD had left an indelible mark and Nistico’s question of “Why can’t you be / Happy with me?” rang as a temporary quandary.
Having (very wisely) spent most of my 800 words on HOLYCHILD, I will say this about Danish electropop singer-songwriter MØ: see her live. Good goddamn, she is an incredible performer, capable of changing the temperature of a room on a dime. From her first seconds on stage, it was clear that this is what she was built to do. She tore through an hour long set, sweating her way across her fantastic No Mythologies to Follow. She came through the audience twice, danced on top of the adjacent bar, and crowd surfed while maintaining her dynamic and precise vocal delivery. The visuals were outstanding, her band a powerhouse trio.