M.H. and His Orchestra bring theatrical flair to 9:30 Club
Local performance band M.H. and His Orchestra took a modest but dedicated crowd on a musical journey at D.C.’s 9:30 club on Aug. 30, rewarding its loyal fans (so-called “honeymooners”) with a performance they’d surely never forget.
Black Masala and local band The Walking Sticks opened for the dramatic band.
Black Masala kicked off the evening with its unique blend of Eastern European style (think “gypsy” music) and New Orleans brass band aesthetic. It was loud, it was brash and it got the crowd dancing. The band showed off its impeccable group dynamic during instrumental songs, but Black Masala is best enjoyed with Kristen Long’s vocals at the front of the mix. Her smoldering voice was punctuated perfectly by whimsically layered horns on songs like “Knockin,’” which quickly got the crowded floor moving. Throughout the set Long’s voice ranged from subtle croon to rip-roaring belt – and kept the audience locked in for the entirety of Black Masala’s short but sweet set. If you’ve never danced to bands with a horn section – especially ones that feature a tuba – Black Masala is proof that you’ve been missing out.
Next, Silver Spring local The Walking Sticks took over the stage and countered the flair of Black Masala with its bass heavy brand of ’80s influenced dream-pop. Brothers Max and Spencer Ernst mixed punchy synth hooks with glassy guitar riffs to compliment Chelsea Lee’s striking vocals on songs like “Had Enough” and “Name On It.” The crowd pressed forward and danced along to favorites like “Send the Night” as well as new songs – presumably from The Walking Sticks’ upcoming EP.
Many smiles were cracked during a shoegaze-tinged but undeniably catchy version of Justin Timberlake’s “Senorita.” Other set highlights included an impressively choreographed – and endearingly hysterical – synchronized dance routine while performing “One Sweet Thing.” The Walking Sticks closed its set with “Come On Baby,” which Lee deemed “a song literally made for dancing.” “If you don’t dance,” she concluded, “I will approach you after the show. And I will kick you.” As the crowd sang and danced along with Lee and the Ernst brothers, it was clear that The Walking Sticks are a local act worth keeping tabs on this year.
Then things took a turn for the theatrical, as members of the ten-piece outfit M.H. and His Orchestra marched from the second floor, through the crowd and onto the stage. As the dramatic parade of white blazer and red sash-clad band members continued, it became evident that the Northern Virginia based orchestra-pop project would be putting on quite the spectacle. Its creator and frontman, Max Holiday, was greeted with roaring approval from the tightly packed mob of so-called ‘honeymooners’ before delivering the first of many monologues that evening -almost every song was prefaced with one. “Orchestra, present arms!” he barked, before launching the band into “Chi Chi,” and merging the opening song with “Promenade.” Its carefully composed, richly layered yet driving rock was reminiscent of Queen but maintained the campy cult atmosphere of a Rocky Horror Picture Show performance. Truth be told, this was more of a show than a concert.
Musically, M.H. and His Orchestra performed well. The band was incredibly polished, and coordinating such elaborate theatrics with a ten-piece band is hardly a small task. But the overwhelming commitment to its own act made M.H. and His Orchestra difficult to enjoy for the average, uninitiated audience member. Non-‘honeymooners’ were left feeling a bit out of place – not the ideal vibe to gather from a headlining act on a Saturday at the 9:30 Club. Still, the energy of the band and its dance-happy fans made it hard to stay in a bad mood, and the set ended on a high note with encore songs “The Throes” and “Calderwood.” M.H. and His Orchestra is definitely an experience, but not necessarily one for every concertgoer. Fans of concept bands like Gorillaz might find the charm in such theatrics, but the drama and spectacle of the orchestral-pop outfit seems best left to the “honeymooners.”