Stepping out in a bright pink ensemble, lead singer Chelsea Lee blended glossy, vibrant vocals with sharp, synth-heavy instrumentals churned out by twin brothers Spencer and Max Ernst at the sold-out U Street Music Hall show Saturday night.
The homecoming performance brought the group’s radio-ready, sprightly sounds to neon-bright life, with Lee’s singing so blemish-free that it, while energetic and earnest, created a flat and overly polished tone. Likewise, though the Ernst brothers seamlessly played multiple instruments, from electric guitar to bass to keyboards and more, it was hard to pinpoint what would discern them from other indie pop outfits such as Chvrches or Purity Ring.
Before the three became a tightly knit ensemble, they forged their friendship in adolescence through the D.C. music scene. They eventually became housemates, signed with New York-based Photo Finish Records and, last year, Lee and Spencer Ernst tied the knot.
As Shaed, they broke ground with 2016’s “Just Wanna See,” showcasing Lee’s dulcet vocals on a pliable canvas of colorful synths and euphoric rhythms. Then, with the release of 2018’s “Melt,” more contrast was added with layered percussion and Lee starting to unravel her vocal range.
Onstage, Lee felt more daring than on recordings, adding a riff here and a sustained high note there. In the ’80s-tinged, sinister-yet-danceable “Silver Knife,” Lee played with dynamics. Then, accompanied by an acoustic guitar, Lee showcased a more tender version of rose-colored pop staple “Keep Calling.”
And, of course, there was the vivid and tactile “Trampoline,” a recognizable earworm after it was featured in a 2018 MacBook Air commercial, but this time, with Lee’s belting adding human fervor to it.
The highlight of the show arrived in the encore, with a version of “Just Wanna See” featuring a wistful guitar and Lee flexing a smoky lower register for maximum longing effect.
It’ll be interesting to see whether Shaed aims to create more texture and gradation in its sound. One shade is nice, but with Lee’s elastic vocals, a kaleidoscope of sounds awaits.