A love letter to DC9, delivered via Snail Mail

It’s been six years since Lindsey Jordan was catapulted headfirst into indie darling-hood and three since she released an album that proved she’d earned that title. She’s headlined international tours and played her first Coachella last spring. So what was she doing back at a venue like DC9?

The club is the kind of place where cables dangle haphazardly from a low ceiling and the second-level dance floor sags when a crowd is particularly rambunctious. But it’s also the kind of place that’s an incubator, where bands such as Jordan’s indie outfit Snail Mail go to fully form. Having withstood trials that other beloved area clubs weren’t able to survive, DC9 is celebrating its 20th anniversary. This show was its birthday party, dedicated to bands of its “past, present and future.”

So when Jordan appeared on the stage on Valentine’s Day eve, in a shirt that read “Proud Hater” and a spiky pixie cut, it felt like a love letter to venues like these. She’d performed at DC9 only once, in 2016 as an opener. But as a native of Ellicott City, Md., she reminded the sold-out crowd that she used to come to the club “so, so much.”

A lot has changed since those times, when her breakout track, “Thinning,” was released to widespread critical acclaim when she was barely 17. When she played it on Tuesday night, it felt almost like a cover — her voice is now deeper and richer, with a bit more grit, and the inflections felt tongue-in-cheek, as if she was acknowledging the adolescent, open-diary nostalgia head-on.

The show, about an hour long, whizzed by in a trance of mostly midtempo rockers without gimmicks. While the difference between Jordan’s older and newer songs is subtle, it was on the latter that the raw emotionality of her voice was most present. By the time the show peaked with, appropriately, “Valentine,” from her 2021 LP, the masterful swings between her low-toned verses and high-register choruses had underscored what anyone who’s being paying attention to Jordan’s trajectory already knew: She’s a master of her craft and she’s only getting better.

End of carousel

If Snail Mail represents DC9’s past, then opener Birthday Girl represents its future. Some might call the trio District music scene nepo babies, and they’d be right: guitarist Mabel Canty’s father is Brendan Canty (Rites of Spring, Fugazi) and bassist Bella MacKaye is the daughter of Alec MacKaye (the Faith, Ignition). But the band, like Snail Mail in the days of yore, reminds us that the distorted chug of slightly unsettling indie rock is just about the perfect soundtrack to teenage girlhood. While not yet totally polished, Birthday Girl delivers, with whimsical lyrics about boys going to Jupiter to get more stupid-er and “woos!” that sound delightfully helium-induced. Scandalized murmurs ran through the crowd when Canty announced she was only 16.

DC9 made its point clear by setting these two acts — one genuine up-and-comers making their club debut, the other a weathered professional who owes her career to clubs like this — back-to-back. These types of venues, growing rarer by the year, are what foster this scene. And although bands like Birthday Girl might someday outgrow them, too, there will always be a younger generation waiting in the wings.


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