While it’s hard for any gig to live up to the energy driving the first night of Commonwealth of Notions, intricate songwriting and expansive soundscapes were on glorious display during the closing second night of the seventh annual local festival.
While each artist on the bill had something truly unique to offer, Night Two’s lineup encompassed a dynamic range of styles and emotions rarely seen in a single show. Strange Matter was an excellent choice of venue for such a varied showcase – few rooms can comfortably phase from rock to hip hop to electronica as adeptly. Shoutout to the audio engineers and Smatter staff for consistently kicking ass!
Like a great playlist, every aspect of Cleary’s lineup curation seamlessly flowed through waves of emotions – dulcet songs leading into roaring anthems before a comedown of soft missives, and so on. Even the lineup of sets felt proactively considered in this way.
We Never kicked off the bill with some experimental rock songs doused in power pop bravado. I had no idea what to expect from my first experience of their live show, but it definitely left a lasting impression and a few hooks tossing around in my head. Their psychedelic pedalwork and fuzzy rhythms fit well with their swelling choruses.
Hot Reader turned things up a bit with soulful indie-pop that took me by surprise. They sounded incredible. I was most impressed with their explosive powerhouse vocals and fun riffs. A few surprising swing parts got the better part of the crowd moving and grinning, this writer included.
Afterwards Sammi Lanzetta perfectly encapsulated why I believe her and her band are some of the most exciting artists to grace Richmond stages over the last few years. Fresh off a sold out set the night prior with Screaming Females and Prabir at Gallery5, the trio were in top form Saturday night.
Lanzetta’s scorching vocals provided a driving, soul-stirring force to arrangements already blistering in their own right. Their sound was mixed wonderfully (THANK YOU, SAINT SOUNDPERSON). I left eagerly awaiting their next release. That’s a feeling I always strive for, that magical rush of support and sincerity that discovering resonant music brings. That warmth will never not be cool to me. I hope you find it, too.
Lately, the vibrancy and fun experienced by catching a McKinley Dixon and Friends set seems to be one of the worst kept secrets in Richmond, and for good reason. The crew wasted no time masterfully vibing with the crowd, injecting some jazzy positivity and critical nuance into the evening.
As bandleader and wordsmith, Dixon understands the power of a fully-utilized stage presence. There’s not any single lyric, rhythm, solo or individual member that speaks the loudest in the ensemble, nor are there any of the above that wasn’t specifically intended to be there. Every moment is embraced. Every breath is given respect. It’s an understanding of arrangement that challenges the way you understand what makes music cathartic or impactful.
The band shines where they are intentional, and their intentions were clear on Saturday night. In other words, what the hell did we do to get to exist at the same time as McKinley Dixon and Friends?
The poignant rhymes and bold beats of Black Liquid made for a thought-provoking follow up to Dixon’s set. Liquid’s lyricism beautifully bounced over the slick oooomph of the beats with a mesmerizing flow.
The crowd swayed along transfixed with the genuine performance, which continued as Opin took the stage. The synthpop outfit interspersed new material with cuts off their self-titled LP (released in March on Egghunt Records), which mellowed out the evening considerably.
Closing out the festival was Ice Cream Social, a dance party organized by the incredible ice cream support group. The upbeat dance party was part of a month of daily events celebrating one year of the group’s existence, performances and community work. If you missed out, don’t miss their upcoming dance party at Flora benefitting the Nu Richmond Festival next month!
Commonwealth of Notions is a festival with something for everyone. For the casual music fan, CoN serves a refreshing opportunity to discover several Richmond artists in one convenient bill. For the diehards, it offers refreshing twists and juxtapositions one can’t find anywhere else.
Even if you’ve caught every band on this year’s incarnation multiple times previously, CoN brought out fresh textures, impressive range and several surprises from some of our locale’s finest – all to support the great cause of WRIR.