Descending into the cave-like Barboza, I worried about tripping down the long flight of stairs leading into the venue. I'd worn my platform Tevas, forgetting that shows in sticky bars demand comfortable closed-toe shoes. Taking each step with care, I made it to the bottom, offered my wrist to the door attendant, and entered the air-conditioned and sensually lit venue. Avoiding a back-breaking re-entry into the live music scene, I let out a sigh of relief.
Everyone, we're back.
Last night, the Neumos complex—Neumos, Barboza, and The Runaway—hosted their Official Reopening Party, swinging open their front doors and letting the (vaccinated) masses in for the first time in more than 15 months. In the scramble to prepare for the restrictions lift on June 30 and with many national acts booked in the fall, venues like the Neumos complex have concentrated on hiring local acts for the summer.
Seattleites are being welcomed back to live music culture with a glut of performers from our community. Last night at Neumos, DJ Morgan of KEXP, Antonioni, and Black Ends opened for Spirit Award's album release party, while Slow Shudder and Archie warmed up the crowd for the always exuberant Chong the Nomad. And next door at The Runaway, the disco-infused Double Sunrise Club provided a sonic backdrop for the crowd to get litty to. It's nothing if not heartwarming.
"Shows are BACK!!" an excited Amanda Mayo a.k.a. producer and vocalist Slow Shudder yelled near the top of her live/deejayed set. The mass of people near the stage danced to Mayo's slick beats, smiling from ear to ear.
Next up was singer and performer Archie, accompanied by DJ Jackson. With blonde tresses artfully piled on top of her head, Archie opened with her energetic "Tell Me All the Ways," which got the crowd going. Throughout her set, she cruised through hits from her discography playing my favorite of hers, "Bad Bitch," like a bad bitch. At one point a straight couple elbowed me in the middle of a hardcore grinding session. People were turned on.
Archie treated the crowd to a couple of new tracks and teased an unreleased music video that's about to drop soon. She even asked the crowd for a sip of a drink, delicately taking a swig with all the charm of a relatable pop star. After her last song, "Die For You," she ended her set hugging her friends posted in the front row.
"Alright I need to go cry in the green room," she said happily, before exiting the stage.
Finally—it was time for Stranger cover star Chong. The lights went out. A projection of what seemed to be her screensaver popped up on the back of the stage. A spare version of Olivia Newton-John singing "Hopelessly Devoted to You" washed over the audience. And then suddenly, the track warped into a clangy beat as the projections similarly turned in on itself, in line with the music. A battle-ready Chong emerged and took center stage, yelling into the mic "WHAT THE FUCK IS UP BARBOZAAAAAA." The crowd screamed back. It was time to get the fuck down.
Chong played a set full of her clever, organic, and wonky tracks. She mixed in some new songs—like "Get Back," which she says will debut next week—as well as some old standbys, like "Ghost in the Shower." She even looped in her take on a couple of Shaina Shepherd records. And I almost lost my shit at her remix of Ying Yang Twins' "Salt Shaker" as a tall white dude behind me just shouted "Dirty!" in the general direction of the stage. Dirty is right, my friend!
Chong's set felt as much about visuals as about the music, with a spectacular light show and colorful projections heightening the expressive nature of her beats. Toward the end of her set, a quick slideshow of her as a child popped up as a voiceover recounted her relationship with the harmonica. Onstage, Chong put one in her mouth and breathed through it into the mic. It was a deeply personal, yet playful look behind the curtains of the DJ making everyone in the space dance.
After her encore performance, Chong signed off—"I’m Chong the Nomad, I'll see you guys soon"—breezily leaving the stage and a satisfied audience behind her.
Though the crowd showed up and out for the performers, they were also clearly there to just be with each other again. I witnessed friends and acquaintances reuniting throughout the night after not seeing one another maskless for more than a year. Two jubilant friends asked a stranger to take a cute but horribly lit photo of them near the bar. Drunk attendees nearly tackled each other with joy, screaming "IT'S BEEN SOOOOOO LONG AHHHHHH!" Everyone seemed to be saying to one another, Can you believe we're really here again?!
Near the end of the show, a drunk sweaty dude in front of me hugged two friends he seemed to have only just met, slurred, "We did it, we beat corona." While that remains to be seen, we have definitely overcome a lot to get here. And it was nice to enjoy each other's company.
Check out some more excellent photos from Chong's set from photographer Jeffrey Martin: