Before coming to Hopkins, I had already started laying out extravagant plans for concert-viewing in D.C. The fall lineup is always ripe, no matter what part of the country you’re in, and I even had an app that scanned my Spotify music library to track who was passing through and where they were playing.
Of course, my overly ambitious plan lasted about two weeks, falling apart due to lack of funds, time and energy (the college trifecta). It wasn’t until a King Princess ticket practically fell into my lap that I followed through on buying a MARC ticket and taking the L on 60 pages of reading to spend the night dancing and singing with friends in a small but tightly packed theater.
My choice of King Princess was a calculated one. I’m no stranger to the concert routine — in high school, most of my friends were girls I’d met in line at the myriad of shows I attended, and most of my weekends were spent scouting cheap venues or tickets.
In all my evening trysts with live vocals and dim lighting, the shows I’d enjoyed the most were the ones that both tended toward the smaller side and were also performed by an artist I was familiar with, who made songs I could dance to.
King Princess fit all of these criteria, and her latest album, Cheap Queen, is a work that I revisit over and over again, pursued in the vein of my continued and growing appreciation for well executed, female-fronted pop. I was also curious to see how King Princess (actual name Mikaela Straus) had evolved as a performer over the last year-and-a-half — I went to one of her first shows in Los Angeles after the release of an early EP, when she was still finding her aesthetic and vocal footing.
Knowing that her music had evolved and become more directed since then, I was curious to know if her live act would follow in these footsteps.
I was honestly floored. I’m not exaggerating when I say that, out of all the shows I’ve been to, hers was one of the most engaged, energetic and genuine I’ve attended. The 9:30 Club turned out to be the perfect venue — small, with the audience crowding the stage and the balcony looming close. The were a lot of queer women in the audience, and an aura of easy camaraderie permeated the room.
The opening act performance, which I find is often when the crowd loses energy, had just the opposite effect. The first — Snail Mail, an LA-based indie-rock group fronted by Lindsey Jordan — provided a guitar-heavy performance. Of the two main vocalists, one sung with a raspy and deep style, while the other provided an airy and dreamlike performance.
The contrasting delivery and relaxed movements of the band made the act more of an exchange than anything that maintained a clear audience/artist line.
The second opener, a black drag queen in a glittering purple dress and clean, extravagant makeup, gave a captivating performance of a Whitney Houston repertoire, completely selling the music and her own charm as her lips mouthed along with the audience. By the time the drag queen had finished, we were all buzzing and excited, a clear difference from the usual tired muttering that takes up space between the last opener and the main act.
King Princess, after she bounded on stage and began an hour and a half roster of songs from both her album and her first EP, also exceeded all expectations. The lighting varied from long streams of white light pouring into the audience to a rainbow haze and a turning disco ball during “Hit the Back,” which worked fluidly with the music.
The inventive set — a painted nature scene fronted by a human-sized sculpted pair of bleeding hands and painted nails holding a mirror frame with “Cheap Queen” scrawled across it in red lettering — was fittingly integrated into King Princess’s impromptu dance breaks. The Marie Antoinette-inspired makeup that each band members had on brought a subtle humor to the setting. The easy rapport Straus built with the audience, based on shared internet jokes, as well as commentary on the crowd and her band, drew me in and kept me focused on the room and the music.
Straus’ vocals and stage presence have undeniably grown stronger, and watching her dance around on stage with a defiant force, cracking jokes and singing back to the audience made the hour-long trip south worth it. Her newly-released music is upbeat, written to be performed, and the whole crowd was dancing and singing with her.
The entire event reminded me of why I love concerts so much, why I gravitated towards the dark rooms and claustrophobic groupings of people when I felt lonely or worn out during my teenage years.
The way that music, performed well and performed genuinely, takes over your body and mind, joins you with everyone around you, removes you from the churning outside world and makes the present feel tactile and immersive, is something I never want to live without. King Princess, with her aesthetically cohesive and consistently engaging performance, provided just that.