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Posted at 4:25 PM ET, 01/ 4/2011

In concert: Lower Dens at Millennium Stage

By David Malitz

lower densBaltimore's Lower Dens were a welcome presence at Millennium Stage on Monday. (All photos by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

"Twin Hand Movement," the debut album from Baltimore quartet Lower Dens showed up on a handful of year-end top 10 lists last month. It was basically a regular, though, on the harder- to-classify "most overlooked" lists that praised lesser-known acts. A performance early Monday evening at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage helped explain the schism but it also offered plenty of hints that Lower Dens will achieve list ascension with its next release.

Lower Dens is not a grand statement band that demands to be recognized, but instead is one that studiously works in its own little corner and has perfected its own brand of hypnotic psych-folk-drone-rock. It's the kind of music that slowly creeps onto your radar and is bound to remain there.

It's convenient to group Lower Dens in with their Charm City brethren Beach House and Wye Oak (they'll open for the latter in March at the Black Cat) since each group features a female vocalist with a striking voice. But while Beach House favors hazy, willowy dreamscapes and Wye Oak plays sturdy, dynamic dirges, Lower Dens works somewhere in the middle.

Singer/guitarist Jana Hunter's voice was the focal point of almost all of the 14 songs the band played on Monday, but she never overpowered the songs with over-emoting. Her inviting sing-whisper on songs such as "I Get Nervous" and "Truss Me" lulled listeners into her comfort zone.

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Bassist Geoff Graham's propulsive bass lines were the foundation for most songs, combining with drummer Abe Sanders for a relaxing motorik on "Blue & Silver" and "Holy Water," recalling British drone rockers Electrelane, another one of those "overlooked" bands of a few years ago.

With the rhythm section locked into a gentle groove, Hunter and fellow guitarist Will Adams were free to lay on the texture. Healthy slabs of reverb helped single notes resonate and the technological trick of Hunter occasionally sampling her own vocals to create a loop added a bit of spookiness - and surely confused the handful of curious stragglers and bargain-hunting tourists that often make up the audience for the daily Millennium Stage shows.

And while those patrons were surely present in the Kennedy Center's high-ceilinged hallway, most of the seats were filled by 20-somethings who were clearly there to see the band. It raises an interesting point -- why doesn't Millennium Stage host more of these types of shows? The schedule has always been NPR-friendly, but this is the new NPR crowd. Lower Dens even has the Bob Boilen-hosted Tiny Desk Concert to prove it. Surely there must be two or three indie bands per month who would rather play at one of the nation's great performing arts centers for a few hundred fans instead of a dark nightclub that looks like the dark nightclub at every other city on its tour. Consider it a New Year's resolution for all involved.

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By David Malitz  | January 4, 2011; 4:25 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags:  Lower Dens  
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One man's "hypnotic psych-folk-drone-rock" is another man's sleeping pill. To each his own.

I fully agree with Mr. Malitz' observation that the Millennium Stage ought to consider more indie rock in its mix of shows. From Richmond to Philly, there are probably plenty of worthy bands that would welcome the chance to play there and for whom a trip to DC would be an easy day-trip. Also, I used to go to shows there about twice a month - now I go maybe 4-5 times a year. The Eastern European puppet shows and high school orchestras just don't get me in the door, even for a free show. (I assume the line-up has to do with Fannie Mae no longer being a co-sponsor.)

BTW, the first show I made it to in 2010 was Pree at the Millennium Stage. I hope the management of the KCMS reads Mr. Malitz' piece and takes the suggestion to heart.

Posted by: MyPostID27 | January 5, 2011 10:14 AM | Report abuse

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