“It seems like people are getting a good cry out of these shows,” Lucy Dacus wrote on Twitter several days ago. “Sorry not sorry, and thank you for going there with me.”
There weren’t too many tears during Dacus’s sold-out early set at the Rock and Roll Hotel on Saturday night — they probably had a better chance of flowing during her 11 p.m. late show — but there was an abundance of adoration and singing along. Lots of singing along.
Saturday marked the last stop on a brief spring tour in support of her acclaimed new album, “Historian,” and Dacus asked the crowd for the cardinal direction toward her home town of Richmond at one point. “My bed is two hours that way,” she said, adding her finger to all those pointing in the general direction of Interstate 95, seeming both sad and relieved that some non-tour sleep was in her future.
The 22-year-old has earned a break. She’s been promoting the follow-up to her 2016 debut, “No Burden,” in one way or another for the majority of 2018, and this run of shows, which began in early March, has generated breathless praise, as well as ticket demand that prompted Dacus to play two sets per night in some cities, the District among them.
It didn’t take more than a few songs to understand why her shows stir so much emotion: Dacus exudes self-effacing charm, her large, round glasses and modest dark suit announcing a presence that’s more librarian-with-a-dark-side than a rising indie rock star. But when she leaned into new songs like “Yours & Mine” or “Pillar of Truth,” Dacus shimmered with feeling, her words sung back at her by people who had been undoubtedly touched.
“You don’t want to be a creator, doesn’t mean you’ve got nothing to say,” she sang on “The Shell,” while the swelling “Next of Kin” confessed, “I used to be too deep inside my head, now I’m too far out of my skin.”
Those kinds of sharply drawn observations, matched to polished, nuanced overdubs and covered with a gauzy indie-rock sheen, have deservedly marked “Historian” as an early best-of-2018 pick (and made vinyl copies of her debut on Richmond’s EggHunt Records a collector’s item: Copies are trading hands for upward of $75).
Peeled back to a core rock unit — Dacus’s guitar paired with that of Jacob Blizard and the bass of Sadie Powers and Ricardo Lagomasino’s drums — the hour-long set had a rough-hewed charm that suited the vocal contributions of the crowd. It also demonstrated that the musical frameworks are just that, solid but unremarkable indie rock ready-mades that allow her singular lyrics and melodies to truly take off.
The quartet covered every highlight from “Historian” and added a handful of older songs, including the captivating statement of purpose “I Don’t Want to Be Funny Anymore.” As a whole, it was a delightful freeze-frame of Dacus, not unlike the one she took of the sold-out club before the set began, capturing her Richmond basement roots and the rapid maturation of her songwriting gifts.
By the time final notes of the “Historian” title track had faded, the feeling that Dacus won’t be appearing again in a room that intimate was palpable.