It was a chilly, sleepy Monday night in the District, but D∆WN was ready to party. The artist formerly known as Dawn Richard took to the small stage of DC9 wearing a barely-there outfit of red-sequined hot pants, a sheer top and knee-high stiletto boots. When she asked, “So can we have some fun tonight?,” the question was clearly rhetorical.
After an instrumental introduction, Richard launched into “Faith,” a 2012 cut reminiscent of Drake and Rihanna’s “Take Care” that found her belting out “You never lost faith in me” over synth chords and a galloping club beat. The lyric is telling — it seems to speak to fans that have never given up on the singer, despite the winding path her career has taken.
Richard started out as a member of Danity Kane, a tumultuous product of Diddy’s reality-TV enterprise “Making the Band,” and as part of Diddy’s Dirty Money, which released the ahead-of-its-time “Last Train to Paris” before disbanding in 2012. Richard rose from the ashes later that year with “Armor On,” continuing to explore the fringes of electronic-R&B and never looking back, releasing “Goldenheart” in 2013 and “Blackheart” in 2015.
Her experimental-yet-approachable style has drawn critical acclaim and a sizable cult following. The latter was in full effect on Monday night, as a room full of super-fans sang and danced along, the floor heaving under the weight of a hundred-plus revelers.
Both Richard and the audience fed off each other’s energy as the singer hopped through her discography, seemingly touched by the audience’s ecstatic reaction to every song, no matter how obscure. Focusing on the dancier side of her catalogue, Richard was a siren over propulsive grooves, synthesized melodies and waves of bass. She also dazzled with her dancing, balancing pneumatic contortions with sensuality.
But, more than a showcase of her flexibility — sonically and literally — the show was a tribute to her fans. “I’m only here for you guys,” she said, thanking the crowd for knowing all her lyrics before launching into “Ode to You.” When she said she wanted to sing with her fans, two audacious audience members jumped onstage and grabbed the mic, doing their best Dawn Richard karaoke. “That’s why no one will be as beautiful as our movement,” she maintained, adding with a laugh: “Y’all crazy.”
Eventually, the dance party would have to end. “We used to just do 45 minutes, now we do an hour and 15,” Richard explained. “We still have more but they throw us out. We got curfews and s---.” But before she left, she encored with the skittering single “Not Above That,” moving through the crowd while cooing, “I want it all.” With performances like the one Monday, she might just get it.
Kelly is a freelance writer.