Nona Hendryx accomplished the almost impossible last night--she made a diva's grand entrance at the tiny, writhing 9:30 club. Sheathed in black leather and silver jewelry, Hendryx seethed onto the stage, her hair a bristling two-tone wedge. Formerly one glittery third of Labelle, Hendryx, who has always had strong D.C. support, exhorted an audience that has grown beyond cult status. Known for her experiments with the Talking Heads and Material, Hendryx seemed to be marketing her music more commercially, but still took some chances.
Her latest touring band, Propaganda, created dense, heavily textured dance music, full of sheets of abrasive guitar and roiling synthesizers. Hendryx's muscular voice, a honeyed rasp, wrestled with and dominated the complex rhythms of her music, an adventurous mix of rock, funk, reggae and electropop.
She relied almost exclusively on material from her new solo album, mostly self-written shouters mixing hedonism with political chants. But she was at her best when she stripped the music down to bass and percussion. In a riotous reworking of the Supremes' "Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart," Hendryx and company obliterated the original melody, but it didn't matter--her voice alone propelled the song.