The DC9 Club had a somber show on Sept. 20, featuring Mannequin Pussy and Yowler as openers, and LVL UP as the headliner. This was LVL UP’s last performance in D.C. after deciding to break up in June, following a moderately successful career as an indie rock band with a consistent fan base. LVL UP had a seven-year stint as a band, releasing "Space Brothers" in 2011, "Hoodwink'd" in 2014, "Return to Love" in 2016 and the single "Orchard" in 2018. The four-piece band includes Mike Caridi, Dave Benton, Nick Corbo, and Greg Rutkin.
A classic at every LVL UP show is seeing the band members in the crowd supporting their openers because LVL UP isn’t just a band focused on their own success -- they want to support their friends and fellow bands. LVL UP also often posts videos on their Instagram of the openers. The crowd was receptive to both bands and if they had not been fans of the bands before, they were now.
The show started off with Mannequin Pussy, a punk rock band based in Philadelphia. Their music contains elements of metal and light-hearted indie rock. At times, lead vocalist Marisa Dabice screamed as a means of expression, and at times, her painfully vulnerable voice softly pierced through the other elements of their songs.
Mannequin Pussy is an emo band, but their music is about so much more than anger. They performed their title song, "Romantic" which placed 14th on The Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Songs of 2016, as well as other songs from their album “Romantic.”
Next up was Yowler, a band led by Columbus-native Maryn Jones that originally started as a solo project. Yowler played the first few songs solo and later enlisted her other band members. But before she even began her performance, Jones professed her love for LVL UP, saying how she was so lucky to have met them and that they were her best friends.
Yowler played songs off of her 2015 album,"The Offer,” as well as her upcoming album, "Black Dog In My Path," which will be released on Oct. 12. Yowler has worked extremely hard to make this next album and her new songs are a better reflection of her and her improved songwriting.
The crowd truly got into their element when the band of roommates, LVL UP, graced the stage. The Brooklyn band played a variety of songs, drawing from early releases including songs off of the 2011 classic, “Space Brothers.” The band had previously asked fans to send them songs that they wanted to hear them play, so that their last tour could be as great for the fans as it could be for the band. Their setlist provided all those in attendance with a feeling of nostalgia and gave each band member a chance to shine.
Uncharacteristically, LVL UP doesn’t have one lead vocalist; Caridi, Benton, and Corbo all sing lead vocals at some point in the set. Most bands only have one lead vocalist and the others in the band sing backup.
Audience members had extremely strong opinions about the setlist. People were shouting out song names; unfortunately, none of the songs shouted out had been given to the band previously. Surprisingly, LVL UP forgot some of their songs and weren’t able to play some of the songs that people had suggested.
Additionally, there were a couple instances of awkwardness throughout their set. Benton switched out the name “Ryan” for “Chelsea” in “Spirit Was,” but messed up the first time and had to start over. Also, there was an attempt at creating a mosh pit during “Hidden Driver,” but Benton stopped the song to stop the pit, saying that you shouldn’t be invading someone’s personal space. Depending on how you feel about moshing, this might have disrupted your experience, but LVL UP’s music is good enough to be enjoyable without the pit.
Despite these interruptions, this was an incredible show. LVL UP, in addition to playing their songs, did quite a bit of improvisation, often straying from the original composition of the song. This addition enhanced their performance and showcased the band’s musicianship. LVL UP’s humble energy empowered the room and gave each person a sense of importance in being there. To quote LVL UP’s drummer, Greg Rutkin, it was a “tender moment.”
The electric sound so tenderly orchestrated by this quartet will never be made again, but LVL UP’s band members will continue making music following their breakup. According to Rutkin, we can hear him in the music of Trace Mountains, a band headed by another LVL UP member, Benton, as well as Yohuna's new album. Cardi will be releasing a new album coming out next year under “The Glow” and Rutkin will play drums in that as well.