Despite some snags, Raine, Photocomfort, and Radclyffe Hall gave engaging and dance-worthy performances.
Snow was falling on the sidewalks outside Great Scott, but on the stage there was Raine. The lady behind Raine, Jacqui Rae Stewart, perfectly self-categorizes her sound as “ethereal alt-pop.” Stewart, on vocals and keys, was accompanied by a drummer and a harp player.
Although synth was used, the harp took center stage, playing parts that other pop artists would have relegated to a synthesizer. Giving these melodies to the harp created a pure and lush sonic landscape that gave the songs an otherworldly quality. Coupled with Stewart’s voice — at times sharp and charged, at others lilting with a lovely vibrato — made this opener a truly mesmerizing act.
You know you’ve found a good show when the audience consists of other bands. Members of the Western Den, I/O, the Novel Ideas, and artist Sam Moss, among others, cheered for Raine and welcomed the contemporary alt-pop of Photocomfort. This was Photocomfort’s first performance in a year and a half. Formerly a band, now a one-woman act, Photocomfort singer and keyboardist Justine Bowe was joined onstage by Daniel Radin of the Novel Ideas and members of Philadelphia band Carroll.
Because of travel, the assembled band had only one day to practice with each other, an impressive feat. Bowe’s voice was airy, imbued with a sensuality that played at the ends of her phrases, vaguely reminiscent of No Doubt-era Gwen Stefani. The synthesizer was an integral part of Photocomfort’s music, as present as Bowe’s singing. When the synth blended in with the guitars and drums — as it did on the groovy, riff-driven “Perpetual Freshman” or her most recent single, “Hit, Run”— the result was as dreamy and danceable as alt-pop as it should be. Yet for this performance, the synth tended to drown out the rest of the band, a slight but important mixing blunder.
Photocomfort’s bright pop gave way to a little bit of everything as Radclyffe Hall took the stage, joined by Raine. The lighting became dimmed and moody. Radclyffe Hall is the multi-genre pop project of Dhy Berry, who borrows her stage name from a late nineteenth century lesbian writer who was challenged in court for her frankness in writing about her life and sexuality.
Today’s Radclyffe Hall has been embraced instead of excluded, but her music shares that frankness that her namesake had. Berry is a bubbly and energetic performer, both in the way that she talks to the audience and the way she throws herself into her synth-heavy, groovy, and beat-driven music. She has explained her music as “anthems for the bedroom and the dance floor,” and her lyrics orient her music in those two prime locations. “Rather Be” is dark and smoky and intriguingly dissonant.
After a pitchy interlude where Berry’s voice and Raine’s synthesizer never managed to quite catch up in tempo or pitch, and sound issues with Berry’s bass, the band really got into its stride. Sean Camargo’s bombastic drumming drove the performance. Berry’s and Raine’s voices really complemented each other, particularly on the 80s dance pop infused “Don’t Wait (It’s Now or Never).”
However, although Radclyffe Hall had the lyrics and the rhythms of the bedroom, and strove to create an immersive atmosphere, she never quite pulled it off like Raine did with her ethereal alt-pop. Regardless, Radclyffe Hall’s beat-driven melange of electro-pop charmed.