Intrepid mysterious Special Guest Star The Paper went in search of good live sounds, and the following is what transpired when he took in Jay Som and The Courtneys at DC9.
I have waited years to see The Courtneys. The last time they were in town, they opened for Tegan and Sara. That show sold out and as I stood outside haggling with a scalper, I could catch the thumping within. It was like sitting at home watching the tube while listening to a party rage on the other side of the apartment wall. I wasn't going to botch my second chance.
On tour to support their new record II, the trio made a convincing argument for their inclusion in the top ten of the year. Jen had pulled her drumkit towards the front of the stage just behind her bandmates, eliminating the gulf typically reserved for rocking out. It was an audacious statement given crowd energy often feeds from stage antics but the band was prepared to move us via music alone.
Spoiler alert: they succeeded.
Courtney makes playing the guitar look effortless. Having asked twice for more snares in her monitor, she maintained a contented expression like one actively enjoying the music that's playing. Sydney was just as carefree belting out the bass line, but don't let appearances fool you. Loud and hazy, they carried a momentum that could push spring into summer. Jen looked the most hardworking possibly due to a condition that had her reaching for a handkerchief several times. Or maybe singing and drumming is no easy feat. Her serene voice floated above all that steady thumping I looked forward to all these years later and it was perfect.
I had seen Jay Som solo last year when she opened for Mitski. Now playing with a band for the first time to support her new record Everybody Works, I was far more impressed. Especially given that she gave a shout out to not dying after having consumed lots of cough syrup the night before.
It was an immense delight to watch Melina conduct throughout the set. On more than one occasion, she would count in another member of the band just like a conductor would signal the brass section to join in with a gesture of the baton, except she had to use her head, guitar, or whispers. The adorable interactions would sometimes mirror the musical conversation the four piece carried on and off as each took turns rocking out. Other times, the band would take the sold out crowd to the beach where pianissimo waves would crescendo into pleasant crashes over and over, leaving everyone soaked in welcomed splashes.
Jay Som rolled nonstop like the tireless sea. A drum beat or loop pedal would march or whine between songs before the band built into the song. The particular manner in which Melina and company would sometimes start and stop into a song led me to wish I was more just a bit more familiar with their material. It was unclear if the act follows from the record or was simply live improvisations. Judging by the prevalent cheers, my confusion was moot. Both worked.
[words and photo of The Courtneys by The Paper]