When it was announced a few months back that D.C. gospel-punk livewires the Make-Up would be reuniting for a performance at All Tomorrow’s Parties London (and later another ATP festival in New Jersey), local fans were left hoping that there would be a hometown show. Turns out there will be at least one — and it happened Saturday night at Comet Ping Pong, when the band played an unannounced warm-up gig in front of about 100 fans and immediately reclaimed its position as a live band with few peers.
So it wasn’t technically the Make-Up; on Saturday the group was billed as Garbage Zone and frontman Ian Svenonius claimed early in the set, “We're a tribute band.”
But there was no doubt it was the real thing, and the band’s singular sense of dynamics was reasserted within just a few songs of its first show in more than a decade. “Blue Is Beautiful,” a staple of the band’s set from its earliest days, arrived three songs in and was as sharp and seductive as ever. James Canty’s opening guitar riff was like a shot of adrenaline. Michelle Mae coolly and nimbly navigated her way up and down the fretboard of her bass while keeping her classic icy stare. And, of course, it was nearly impossible to take your eyes off of Svenonius, one of rock’s most magnetic frontmen for 20 years now. (Drummer Mark Cisneros, replacing original drummer Steve Gamboa for these reunion dates, played as if he had always been back there.)
“We’re Having a Baby” and “Every Baby Cries the Same” were slinky and funky, but the set really took off at about the halfway point with “We Can’t Be Contained.” The slow-building song crept forward with little more than Canty playing organ, allowing Svenonius to enter the full-on rock-and-roll preacher mode that he inhabits so naturally. As the band crashed into the crescendo, that preaching turned into animalistic squeals and full-body spasms, proving the Make-Up’s gospel-punk ecstasy was back in full force.
A handful of additional favorites, including “Walking on the Dune,” “Here Comes the Judge” and “I Want Some” closed out the electric 12-song set. It was only one show — more like half, and an unofficial one at that — but it seems like after a decade or so run for everyone else, the Make-Up is once again D.C.’s best band. And hopefully there will be one more chance for everyone to confirm.