Electronic and alternative artist Empress Of launched her new tour at the Rock & Roll Hotel on H Street on Feb. 18 after the release of her new album “Us.” Wearing a dress she designed herself and her mother sewed, Empress Of, known off-stage as Lorely Rodriguez, seized control of the intimate venue and packed her short, hour-long set with memorable music.
Empress Of started her tour by pointing out her mom in the audience before asking the crowd, “Who here speaks Spanish?” The bilingual singer kicked off the set with “Trust Me Baby” and “In Dreams,” two songs that feature Empress Of effortlessly weaving English and Spanish lyrics throughout the songs.
Both songs unfold slowly, but the bass reverberated throughout the medium-sized room of the concert hall nestled under the bar up on the second floor. With antique lamps hanging from the ceilings and ornate mirrors lining the concert hall’s walls, the Rock & Roll Hotel offered an adventurous and authentic concert experience befitting of Empress Of.
After the two Spanglish songs, Empress Of launched into the first track off her latest album, “Everything to Me.” Featuring Blood Orange frontrunner Dev Hynes, Empress Of coolly sang over a simple yet persistent backing track that sparked life into the audience and got people moving.
Taking the momentum of the crowd and running with it, Empress Of finished her song “Everything to Me” and jumped into the soaring first notes of “Love For Me.” As she sang out the opening lyrics, “Disaster pretending / To hold it / Together,” the audience held its breath until the tempo picked back up and raced into the chorus.
After “Love For Me” ended, Empress Of immediately began “Just The Same,” a pleading love song with light percussion and deceptively upbeat vocals. When singing the songs live, Empress Of let more emotion seep into her usually cool and collected vocals, but this new tone simply added another level of depth and complexity to her artistic persona.
Empress Of bared her full vocal range for the first stop on her tour, but the powerful playing of her stellar electronic instrumentals sent energy into the small venue. With bass so loud it could be felt from the floor above the concert venue, songs like “All For Nothing” shook the entire building and kept the energy high.
“Water Water,” the first song she played from her 2015 debut album “Me,” was introduced about halfway through the set, but its layered percussion and looped synth vocals bouncing off the Rock & Roll Hotel’s walls made for one of the most powerful moments of the night.
As if she were a DJ in addition to a songstress, Empress Of blended her songs into one another as the set progressed; the industrial yet fluid sounds that finishes “Water Water” oozed into the next track, “I Don’t Even Smoke Weed.” The latter song, hardly even finished, then quickly transitioned to Empress Of’s own interpretation of Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next.”
With each song melting into the next, Empress Of made the concert experience more than simply a run-through of her sophomore album. She crafted a special listening experience that only those concertgoers can claim, expanding upon her art rather than just recreating it in a new setting.
Nearing the end of her brief one-hour set, Empress Of slowed down the pacing of the concert and performed one of the three leading singles of the album, “When I’m With Him.” Still laced with an undeniable excitement for romance, the electronic production was replaced with more traditional instruments; Empress Of even played her own instruments throughout the night, smashing on the drums in time to the song’s beat.
For the penultimate song of her set, Empress Of unleashed the relentless “I’ve Got Love,” an ecstatic celebration that she indeed feels love “running through my fingers through my bones.” It is a simple declaration that Rodriguez transforms into an epiphany.
Empress Of finished her set with the second of only two songs from her debut “How Do You Do It.” Maintaining the energy she built in “I’ve Got Love,” Empress Of returned to her electronic roots at the end of the concert and infected the venue once more with the euphoric energy from her first album.
Despite a short set and a reluctance to play her earlier work, Empress Of delivered a distinct, iconic performance at the Rock & Roll Hotel that may not have been perfect but most importantly put a real-time experience over remaining true to the studio versions of the music. Empress Of is one of many rising voices in both electronic and alternative music, and her tour only proved that she is committed to her art and her fans.