“No blizzard is going to stop us this time,” Alessia Cara promised a sold-out crowd at the District’s Lincoln Theatre on Saturday night, after postponing the show because of January’s winter storm. True to her word, inclement weather — and a voice worn down by her first headlining tour — would not stop Cara, who captivated a youthful crowd with an hour of new-school, blue-eyed soul.
The Lincoln adds a touch of glamour and grandeur to any concert — Cara’s was originally scheduled for the 9:30 Club — but she wasn’t having it. Wearing black basics and ripped black jeans, she bounced across the stage as if she were still singing in her bedroom, as if she were any teenager in the audience.
Despite her youth, the 19-year-old Canadian-born Cara’s voice has a soulful quiver and a smoky, lived-in quality, and she has the stage presence of someone a decade older. She tweaked lyrics for the crowd (turning “Oh, baby, I’m yours” into “Oh, D.C., I’m yours”), led the crowd through call-and-response choruses, and made a bold statement about how images in the media affect the self-
esteem of girls. “When we’re gone, no one will care how we dressed,” she reassured the crowd. “They’ll care about what we left behind.”
Backed by a four-piece band, and occasionally donning an acoustic guitar, Cara worked through the rumbling anthems (“Wild Things”), hip-hop-
inflected confessionals (“Four Pink Walls”) and ah-ah-oh-oh sing-alongs about youth (“Outlaws,” “Seventeen”) of her debut album, “Know-It-All.”
Each song prompted a squeal of recognition from members of the crowd, who were happy to help when Cara’s vocals faltered early on. A few sips of tea halfway through her set seemed to help: She was able to belt out breakup ballad “River of Tears,” delivering clever lyrics (“I realize that sometimes love brings you flowers / Then it builds you coffins / And far too often / We end up falling to our demise”) with ease.
Cara closed her set with her breakthrough single, “Here.” “Thank you for believing in a weird little song and a weird little girl,” Cara told the crowd before launching into the Portishead- and Isaac Hayes-sampling ode to “antisocial pessimists” that has super-charged her career.
“Here” is a dour complement to the empowering uplifters of “Know-It-All,” but it works for the same reason as her other songs. Cara sings for dreamers and lovers and survivors and wannabe outlaws in an uncertain world — and which teen or 20-something in the audience (or anywhere) didn’t subscribe to one or all of those roles? The world needs more pop stars for the “weird,” and Cara won’t be stopped.
Kelly is a freelance writer.