Empress Of TBB

Empress Of knows she's on to something, but wears her pop swagger with with a cloak of humility.

Her show at The Independent last night was a testament to this. As each moment passed, it felt like her confidence and sense of self crescendoed with time. Once she shed this proverbial cocoon of early show jitters, her stunning pop artistry shone to its full heights and took the crowd up with her.

Washington, D.C.'s Gems opened up the show with atmospheric electro-pop that was carried with funky samples and chillwave vibes. The duo looked the bohemian part, but still had the humble nature of an opener, complete with the requisite "Thanks for coming out early!" greetings. They even got a few people swaying and circling. Though I only caught their last two songs, there was a moment right after their set that made me chuckle. As I passed by a couple of people, I overheard a snippet of conversation, presumably about the set: "...overcompensating for being a duo." It got me thinking about how music is perceived based on how many people are on the stage. Though I don't have the full story of their set, their roomy pop sound was intriguing.

Props to the crew at the Independent: they made the night such a cohesive time down to every last detail. From the '90s and '90s-esque R&B playing during the set change to the woman dancing in wedge heels during those moments, I salute you. What elevated the vibe even more were the lights. The light show was tested as extensively as the instruments, and when the light went down to test, everyone reacted as if the show were starting. Ready and thirsty, the fans were ready for their Empress.

Once she graced the stage with her two bandmates, Empress Of's presence was smaller than her music conveyed. Right out of the gate, they started the set with the haunting, lurching beats of "Need Myself." She made a dance out of walking between the microphone and the keyboard in small, haphazardous movements. But as the set progressed, largely drawing from her 2015 debut Me with a couple new songs thrown in, her movements did too. Vague yet emotive shakes morphed into calculated steps and full-on dance moves. She grew more and more comfortable and in turn, the audience emulated her energy. It was a magical moment when the barrier between audience and stage dissolved.

The strength of their musical talent was one thing that remained constant during the show. Lorely Rodriguez has an impressive vocal range and seemed to hit notes effortlessly all over the scale. Her compelling delivery adds even more weight to her personal lyrics, which she sings in Spanish and English. From the get-go, it was immediately clear that a live band, and especially a live drummer, made the music translate into such a great big sound. Big bass, big beats, big voice: the recorded versions are stepping stones that they use to bounce off into the stratosphere.

"Thanks for hanging our with me on a Tuesday. It's Tuesday, right?" she said to the audience near the end of the show.  She confided that this show was her first to do an encore at; she said she wasn't even sure how long she should wait before walking back out on the stage. Though there's a bit of lingering naivete as she navigates her growing popularity, it's completely endearing. Rodriguez as Empress Of is a verifiable tour de force while her confidence catches up to her. At a show where she could have relied on the clubby bangers of her output to carry her through, her taking advantage of the moody moments in between made the balance just right.

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