Lower Dens Impress with New Cuts Despite Small Crowd


Benjamin Shepherd, Photo editor

Geoff Graham, OC ’04, of Lower Dens cradles his bass guitar while bandleader Jana Hunter sings material from the band’s new release, Escape From Evil. The band has recently gained popularity and received numerous positive reviews, yet few attended their performance last Monday at the ’Sco.

Paul Mehnert

When Baltimore’s Lower Dens released their second record Nootropics back in 2012, Pitchfork writer Joe Colly wrote, “There are bands who arrive fully formed and there are those who take a little while to find their footing. Here’s a band you can’t ignore anymore.” If that album demonstrated the band finding their sound, their new release, Escape From Evil, sees them perfecting it. The album, which was released in March of this year, has garnered wide-reaching acclaim, earning the band a “best new music” tag and numerous positive reviews on Pitchfork and Rolling Stone. It was strange, then, to see the band play for such a modest crowd at the ’Sco on Monday night.

Despite their newfound popularity, Lower Dens are not new to the music scene. Bandleader Jana Hunter made her name as an experimental folk artist in the early 2000s, collaborating with prominent acts like Devendra Banhart, Vetiver and Sharon Van Etten. With Lower Dens, however, Hunter has abandoned the sparseness of her earlier material in favor of a much lusher, dreamier indie rock sound in the same vein as groups like Beach House and Wild Nothing.

The night began with opening sets by Cleveland post-punk outfit Pleasure Leftists and Baltimore rapper Abdu Ali. The crowds for both performances were measly and, for the most part, quiet, but both acts made up for the lack of energy in the room with their own onstage intensity. One major highlight occurred when Ali invited a group of about 10 students onstage with him and insisted they dance as hard as they possibly could. Pleasure Leftists and Ali were slightly strange choices for openers, as their loud, abrasive styles stood in stark contrast to the bright, dreamy music of Lower Dens, but both acts gave impressive performances nonetheless.

It was nearly midnight by the time Lower Dens took the stage. The band walked out quietly and confidently. Their setup was simple, consisting of Geoff Graham, OC ’04, on bass, Nate Nelson on drums, Walker Teret on guitar and Hunter, who sang and occasionally played guitar. Hunter was soft-spoken and endearingly awkward as she introduced the band members. The group then kicked off their set with the song “Quo Vadis” from Escape From Evil, and the energy in the room immediately livened. Hunter showed off her excellent vocal range, sounding even more emotive in person than on the record. Next, the band transitioned into “To Die In L.A.,” Escape from Evil’s lead single and one of the band’s most recognizable songs. As soon as audience members heard the opening drum fill, they started reaching for their phones to capture the moment on video.

The set continued in a similar fashion: mostly new tracks with a few older favorites thrown in. Toward the end of the performance, the crowd had severely thinned out. However, those who stuck around maintained the energy level with ease. The band ended their set in a similarly exciting fashion, with Hunter dramatically walking off stage while Teret held his guitar up to the amplifier to create blaring feedback. They didn’t play an encore, but they didn’t need to; their stellar live performance was satisfying enough. Lower Dens has gained a new level of popularity this year, and with that has come a new level of confidence and a feeling of raw excitement that was evident in their Oberlin debut.