As R&B artist Mannywellz fades offstage when the lights dim, a mingling crowd enjoys the lively yet intimate atmosphere at Mercury Lounge. Neon-colored lights arbitrarily start reflecting in different directions on stage as the audience welcomes SHAED.
The Washington D.C.-based trio is often traveling on tour to perform for crowds by sharing the stage with other indie bands like VÉRITÉ. However, this event was a bit different. Instead of being the opening act for another artist, this was their concert.
The twin instrumentalists Max and Spencer Ernst wave energetically to the crowd before settling into their spaces. Finally, the trio's vocalist Chelsea Lee walks to the center of the stage with a glowing grin.
SHAED unexpectedly puts a twist on The Weeknd's "Starboy" for their opening performance.
On their official Facebook page, Lee mentions, "As a female singer I just loved singing "I'm a motherfuckin' starboy," so we had to cover it." As fans of Daft Punk and The Weeknd, they amalgamated tones of funk, pop, and EDM to create their rendition.
A few days after their concert, I had the opportunity to briefly interview the band. With vibrant smiles, Chelsea and Matt reminisce having their very first performance here at Mercury Lounge two years ago with two other emerging artists, namely Domino Kirke and Alexa Wilding. The three band members were best friends in high school and "always had the feeling to start a project together when the time was right."
The stage setup after SHAED's performance at Mercury Lounge on Thursday, September 20, 2018.
Microphone in hand, Lee uses her powerful, honey-like, raspy voice to greet her audience. As she glances around the room, she announces, "We are excited to perform for New York City the night before our EP drops!"
"Too Much" was the next piece that struck its audience. At one point, the concertgoers danced the night away with each other. A club-like song, "Too Much," successfully reflects its message to the audience—to let go and feel free to do what you want. She sings:
Should I take a chance, when there's no guarantee?
It's too much
How can I resist your touch?
Finding you was hard enough
I don't care if it's true love
Lee's incredible and intoxicating voice expresses how it is completely fine to be in the moment. She does this when she uses the phrase "I don't care" after questioning her spontaneous feelings multiple times.
The neon lights dim this time until a deep blue spotlight searches for the three stars of the night. Only a couple seconds into the song, Lee is humming the melody line with her eyes shut.
On "Wish I," Max and Spencer Ernst do their magic by using more than three types of sound to create a surreal composition supporting Lee's soft vocals. "Wish I" essentially sounds like a spell with dreamy vocal tones and rather calmer, quieter instrumentation. This was the peak of the concert.
During "Wish I," Lee refrained from moving on stage. Her body was still in position, yet she swayed to the music, leading the audience to follow her into a state of unexplainable euphoria. Although this was the most flexible piece, as it featured live echoes of her numinous vocals singing, "Wish I" repeatedly, it was undoubtedly the piece that required most attention.
Lee communicated with the twin multi-instrumentalists through eye contact. From time to time, she would look over to Max and Spencer as they improvised their guitar solos. Through consistent eye contact and musical, mutual understanding, they made sure to not miss their cues, maintain professionalism, but also enjoy their own concert.
In discussion with Lee, she calls "Wish I" a "peaceful resolution to the song "Melt" that was initially written to easily flow into "Keep Calling"." "Melt," as described by Lee on Genius, was about her being pressured into singing and acting a certain way for the public, as female. The chorus of "Melt" is unwavering, unapologetic, and brilliant in creating a connection between others who struggle with self-identity:
Now you're dressing me in chains
Callin' every move I make…
I can barely feel myself…
Wish I could melt
As "Melt" builds up tension and expression of conflict, "Wish I" resolves this climactic piece with less vocals and light piano and subtle synth.
Contrastingly, "Lonesome" is a ballad that is comprised of sublime piano melody and Lee's soft, soothing vocals that eventually lead to a loud, strong chorus. It is a song about empathy, appreciation and respect for the people that teach us about life:
She opened up my heart
To a whole new love
I never knew was there
Strings and percussion sneak into the background as Lee's indestructible voice effortlessly counterbalances subtlety with transparency between verse and chorus. Each of the members were able to express their own emotions towards the importance of simplicity in life.