Live Review: ONR. with CrushnPain at DC9, Washington, DC – 15th June 2018

By on Monday, 18th June 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: now more than ever, if you haven’t got a song that pulls the listener in and keeps their attention for more than 30 seconds, you’re sunk as an artist. On the more positive flipside of that, if you are a good songwriter and can write the kind of compelling song that stays with the listener, this talent will pay off massively in terms of getting your music paid attention to. Singer/songwriter Robert Shields, who now performs under the moniker ONR. (pronounced “honour”), is definitely one of the latter. In various projects and under various guises, he’s been quietly honing his craft, which has led to a major label signing last year, after Capitol Records industry bods heard his particularly strong demos.

It’s still early days for the Dumfries-via-Glasgow Scot and his live band: there are only a handful of ONR. singles out to date. An American tour this month, comprised of support dates with SXSW 2017 breakout American star Mondo Cozmo and their own headline dates, is, then, this continent’s first live taste of what amazing things Shields and co. can do. The support dates were announced first and I assumed I was out of luck, as the closest show to me was New York’s Mercury Lounge and on a Wednesday night. To my great excitement, headline dates were soon added, including a stop at my favourite intimate venue in the city of all, DC9, and late on a Friday night to boot.

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Two local acts preceded the Scottish band’s performance. My friend and I were too late to see electronic band Honest Haloway, but we arrived in time to witness one-man band CrushnPain. Looking remarkably like a bespectacled close Irish friend of mine, producer Austin Gallas looks unassuming behind two synths and a remarkably small set of controllers. Don’t judge a book by its cover: I was surprised and happy to enjoy his catchy jungle beats as he threw himself into his music. I bopped my head and moved my body to music that was better than some electronic acts I’ve seen at SXSW and The Great Escape. He rarely sang, but when he did, the vocals were dream pop variety and repetitive. To be fair, dream pop lyrics run a spectrum from ephemeral and intentionally lacking substance to floaty, yet thought-provoking. If he was shooting for the former, mission accomplished.

Recall that the first time I saw ONR. was last month at the massive Paganini Ballroom upstairs at the Old Ship Hotel. It was Friday night at The Great Escape 2018, and a massively promoted BBC Introducing showcase at that. Contrast this reception to ONR.’s shows in America, where Shields is largely unknown and without national backing. I have no doubt the Mondo Cozmo support appearances allowed him and his band the opportunity to win over audiences who might never have found his music in the first place, and these kinds of opportunities are priceless to artists debuting in new territories. The majority of acts from Britain have taken those tentative first steps in the Home of the Brave early on in their careers. Those coming to the headline shows are likely to be the true music discoverers, the open-minded people who click on the Related Artists tab in streaming services and are voracious to check out new artists who aren’t on everyone’s lips yet. These music fans are smaller in number but I’d argue they’re far more important in helping to break new artists than they are ever given credit for.

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These were the fans who were treated to a full-scale, major club-like show in the 200-capacity DC9 Friday night. As mentioned earlier in this review, there are a precious few ONR. songs released, so I think everyone knew the set would be short. Shields and his band delivered an energetic performance, Shields as animated and bounding across the stage with gusto as he did in Brighton. Quick tempo tunes, including driving single ‘Love in Suburbia’ released on the day of the show (watch the promo video at the bottom of this post) and ‘American Gods’ released in February, gave the band quite a workout. A comparison of these to the slow burner 2017 single ‘Jericho’ highlighted the versatility and power of Shields’ voice.

They closed with ‘5 Years Time’, the combination of the vulnerability of the lyrics with the commanding instrumentation providing the ultimate showcase for the stadium-worthy bombast Shields has built into ONR.’s songs. I’m taking the strength of these early singles and this charismatic performance in DC as reliable indicators that ONR. will become a household name soon enough. Just you wait. Check out my interview with Robert Shields at The Great Escape 2018 through here. More photos from this gig are on my Flickr.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

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