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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Review: Chappell Roan stuns in intimate concert


Under the bright lights of 9:30 Club’s main stage, indie musician Chappell Roan transformed from an overlooked artist into a pop star through her engaging and proudly queer performance.

Young people decked out in pink outfits and cowboy hats filled the 9:30 Club Friday evening for Roan’s Midwest Princess Tour. The tour supports her recently released debut album — “The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess” — a 14-track vault of some of the most vibrant pop songs in recent memory because of her skillful writing, outstanding vocal ability and distinctive production work.

The setlist included the entirety of the recent album, one of her earlier songs and a cover of “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga. Roan opened with her 2022 single “Femininomenon,” an upbeat song about the trials of an online relationship with plenty of amusing one-liners like “Dude, can you play a song with a fucking beat?” that created space for more crowd involvement.

Each city on the tour was assigned a theme by Roan, giving a direction for the crowd’s concert outfits. D.C.’s theme was “Pink Pony Club,” the name of her 2021 viral hit. Upon arriving, I waded through an endless sea of Barbie-esque outfits and cowboy hats. The theme brought a heightened level of whimsy, similar to the culture around Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour and Beyonce’s Renaissance Tour. Roan made sure to also dress on theme, wearing a pink two-piece with sparkly fringes and a pink cowboy hat.

The stage was kept relatively simple, but the lighting added to the emotional impact of each song. During “California,” one of the sadder songs on her album, Roan was awash in the spotlight while the rest of the stage was dark, building on the song’s isolating tone.

Roan’s music often tackles the complexities of romantic relationships for young people, especially women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Her song “Casual” is a power ballad about being stuck in a relationship where she wants more than just a casual hookup. “Naked in Manhattan” is about the early stages of a new queer relationship. She uses the line “Could go to hell, but we’ll probably be fine” from the song to address and poke fun at the homophobia experienced by people in same-sex relationships.

The entire performance was an homage to the queer experience. Instead of a traditional opening set, different local drag queens from each city perform. Drag queens Hennessey, Sweet Pickles and Rigatoni, all of whom perform frequently in the D.C. area, lip-synched to popular songs to energize the crowd like Sweet Pickles’ lip-sync mashup of “Barbie Girl” by Aqua and “Toy” by Netta Barzilai. 

The crowd was, unfortunately, a bit too communal, chatting ever-so loudly. Roan once waited for the crowd to quiet down while starting to introduce the next song. After taking a beat, Roan wittingly asked, “Are you guys on poppers or something?” to which there were several cheers in the crowd. These noise interruptions from the audience, though no fault of the artist, continued to be an issue throughout the performance that, at times, distracted me from my experience.

Despite these issues, the 9:30 Club was the ideal venue for Roan’s intimate, indie hits, allowing concertgoers to feel closer to the artist in the compact space, something that is too uncommon with pop shows in stadium tours where you can only see the performer from a screen. She had electric chemistry with the band, best seen in moments when she’d share the mics, dance together and even kiss one of them. At the penultimate song, “Naked in Manhattan,” she announced all of them, Eliza Petrosyan on guitars, Aubrey Harris on bass and Lucy Ritter on drums, while cooling them off with a large fan.

Highlights of the concert included her performance of her August single “HOT TO GO!” which includes a simple choreographed dance to the chorus that Roan started teaching her audiences on her last tour. Concertgoers spelled out the title of the song with their arms and moved their hands down their body, all the while singing along. Everyone appeared to have memorized the song but Roan made sure to teach it to the crowd just in case.

“Red Wine Supernova,” one of her more popular songs, immediately hyped the crowd up as she belted with her powerful voice. And the bridge, like all of her songs, did not disappoint when heard live—a playful section of the song that is great for screaming along to.

Additionally, her cover of “Bad Romance” was an exciting moment for the crowd that included a lot of people who seemed to consider themselves “Little Monsters,” the term for Lady Gaga fans. The connections between Roan and Gaga are rather clear — both have been embraced by the LGBTQ+ community, and both show strong lyricism and vocal ability. Perhaps Roan’s trajectory to mainstream success won’t be that different.

Next year, Roan is scheduled to be an opener for Olivia Rodrigo on her “GUTS” tour, a chance to break into the mainstream so others will experience her powerful voice, relatable lyrics and captivating performances.

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