Bartees Strange and his band pack out The 9:30 Club at hometown DC show

“I’ve been waiting for this show, honestly, for my entire life. So let’s go hard,” Bartees Strange greeted the crowd that packed out The 9:30 Club in his hometown of Washington DC. Opening with “Escape This Circus,” a track off his 2022 release Farm to Table and following it with two live show standards, “In a Cab” and “Mustang,” Strange provided a quick rundown of the major beats of the set to follow. At times quiet and crooning, at others leaning into his history playing in hardcore bands, Bartees Strange demonstrated the breadth and depth of his varied and unique repertoire.

Bartees Strange headlines The 9:30 Club in Washington DC.

To be sure, this hometown 9:30 Club headliner, a first for Bartees Strange, was a full-on celebration. Songs like the exuberant “Heavy Heart,” which Strange said was his way of expressing “joy as a kind of resistance” filled the room to bursting. Graham Richman’s keyboards took the place of a traditional horns section but felt just as bold (not to mention his face-melting solo that closes out the song). “Flagey God” was similarly euphoric, Bartees taking over bass guitar duties, which allowed bassist John Daise to go all in on synth bass, playing no small part in whipping the crowd into a frenzy that lasted through their dynamic and explosive cover of The National’s “Lemonworld.”

John Daise, left. Graham Richman, right.

In stark contrast, “Hold the Line” brought the room to quiet reverence, as Strange explained the song was written for George Floyd’s daughter in the wake of his murder by Minnesota police. The song itself is spare, Strange’s full and plaintive vocals held aloft by TK Johnson’s powerful, steady percussion and some absolutely gorgeous slide guitar by Daniel Kleederman.

TK Johnson, left. Dan Kleederman, right.

Though the setlist was, for the most part, the same as that of the Philly show the night before, due to a show playing directly after Bartees Strange, the band was left without time to perform an encore, which meant DC missed out on one more National cover (“About Today”) and the jubilant but cool fan-favorite “Kelly Rowland.”

Either way, the night’s closer, “Hennessy” was a perfect way to end the hometown show. As Strange told crowd who had spent the last hour singing, dancing, and celebrating his triumphant return home, “I just want you to see me for who I am and what I’m trying to do with this, and I appreciate y’all for actually doing that. This song is for y’all.”

Bartees Strange will be back at the 9:30 Club this Monday, November 28th for NPR Music Celebrates 15 Years. His current tour picks up again the following day in Austin, Texas. Find all the dates through December, here.

All photos by Alec Pugliese. Hire him to shoot your show.