TVD Live: Walk the Moon at 9:30 Club, 1/31

By KERRI PINCHUK | When’s the last time you belted out every word to all of your favorite songs with reckless abandon? I’m not trying to brag or anything, but for me it was last Thursday, when my guilty-pleasure indie-rock band Walk the Moon sold out, plugged in, and blew up the 9:30 Club.

Blame it on the adrenaline rush from scoring a dangerously last-minute ticket, but there was something electric running through the packed club, and it was surprisingly enhanced by the shrieking audience of high-school girls and crowd-surfing bros. It was one of those pogo-stick-jumping, drink-spilling, accidentally-elbowing-your-friend-in-the-mouth (sorry) kind of nights. Considering the band’s last visit to DC was in the intimate confines of the Black Cat back in June, there was a mutual thrill to be rocking at the 9:30 Club.

A quirky quartet out of Cincinnati, Walk the Moon is arguably one of today’s foremost hip boy bands, drawing fans and critics to gush over the group’s playful blend of synth pop and rock. They’ve toured with Young the Giant and Grouplove, and they generated early buzz with a performance at SXSW. NYLON named them a “Band Crush,” and the New York Post listed them as a band “You Must Know.” Though they have only one song on the radio, they boast that modern-day telltale sign of success known as social media clout; the band’s digital media presence claims thousands and thousands of followers.

Pick a song off of YouTube, and you’ll hear the influences: Talking Heads, ELO, Bowie. See them live, and you’ll experience the high energy and vibes of a house party or basement rave. But at the same time, the clean-cut guys ooze a sense of niceness, like the kind of band you’d bring home to your parents. And then there’s the neon face paint: the pre-show ritual started after the band got colorful in a music video, and the most loyal of fans adopted the tradition. The minutes before Thursday’s show seemed strictly dedicated to a bathroom face-paint party, where teenaged revelers traded colors, lent fingers, and shared artistic advice on the art of phosphorescent maquillage.

That hugely popular single you’ve heard somewhere is the crowd-pleaser “Anna Sun,” and it launched the band from relative obscurity to this MTV-style stardom. (Note: it’s definitely worth checking out their Unplugged set.) The catchy song, stuck in your head for an average of 48 hours, is nostalgically named after a college professor and first appeared on their debut album, 2010’s i want! i want! By the time it made its slow crawl onto the radio and to the top of Billboard lists—a true “summer jam,” if you will—the band underscored that success with June’s Walk the Moon, their first major-label record with RCA. The just-released Tightrope EP strays slightly from their typical sound, trading floaty vocals for more synth—most noticeably on the French-tinged track “Téte-a-Téte”—but not too far.

True, Thursday’s setlist was predictable. In fact, most of their recent setlists look pretty much identical. (Opener: “The Liftaway”; trying out something new: “Téte-a-Téte”; soulful mid-show recovery: a personal obsession, “Iscariot”; closer: an explosive “Anna Sun”; encore: something wildly upbeat off of their self-titled album, “I Can Lift a Car.”) Some would scoff at the repetition. But in the same vein, it’s pretty fantastic. Who doesn’t love being the aforementioned borderline-obnoxious guy belting out every word because you’ve looped the same track a billion times? Admit it; there is just no sensation quite like the anticipation, then joy, of hearing the first few notes of a favorite song. It’s like winning the live-music lottery.

Further, the young band’s repertoire isn’t exactly extensive. They only have two full-length studio albums with overlapping tracks, and days before Thursday’s show they released their first EP. Yet despite their limited vault, they’ve managed to sell out scores of shows around the East Coast and build an incredibly enthusiastic, iPhone-toting fan base.

Thursday’s performance left fans wanting for nothing—we got every hit, with every note on point. Once the band cleared out, the crowd quickly dissipated (it was a school night, after all), but so-2013 reverberations of the show were felt for days after. On an Instagram photo posted by yours truly, a random fan summed up her experience in one comment: “Best night of my life.”

Photos: Richie Downs

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