Delta Rae opened its Saturday show at the sold-out 9:30 Club with frontwomen Elizabeth Hopkins and Brittany Holljes screaming. They were in key and harmonizing, but screaming nonetheless.
The North Carolina sextet is among the most recent entrants in the epic-folk genre, which is getting crowded in the wake of Arcade Fire’s and Mumford and Sons’ unlikely commercial breakthroughs. It’s a breathless brand of pop, where bombast is the new black, and “We Are the World” could break out at any moment. A typical Delta Rae tune had traditional folk flourishes such as a strummed acoustic guitar and some tickled piano keys getting overwhelmed by a big beat — drummer Mike McKee had mallets in hand for much of the night, and all the other band members took turns pounding on things or clapping hands to make it bigger — and huge vocals from any or, more likely, all of the four gifted singers (Eric and Ian Holljes, bros of Brittany, are the others). If subtlety is your bag, steer clear; these guys go for a thrill a minute.
“Burnin’ in Carolina” came off as a tribute to Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons as done by an entire “American Idol” cast. Of all the troupe’s singers, Hopkins was most adept at re-creating the “Idol” vibe; her delivery on “If I Loved You,” which varied from a wail to a louder wail, was downright Carrie Underwooden. “Bottom of the River,” which was rendered a capella if one discounts the heavy chains pounding on trash cans (really), was gospel filtered through a production of “Stomp.” Nuance gave way to decibels once again during the band’s cover of “The Chain,” which contained the night’s only guitar solo and had McKee channeling John Bonham circa “When the Levee Breaks.”
Late in the show, members sweetly and humbly thanked fans and local deejays for producing a sellout for their first appearance at D.C.’s flagship rock club. The band members then jumped onto the crowded club floor and performed unplugged. Even 15 feet away from the action, vocals and instruments were unhearable. It was the first and only time all night where adding volume would have been the musical thing to do.
McKenna is a freelance writer.