Rainer Maria Rocks out Black Cat Club

Singer/bassist Caithlin De Marrais of the band Rainer-Maria had more than just cold feet Friday night.

“This is like, the first night of a really long tour. We thought we’d go south because its warmer, but we got here and it’s freezing,” De Marrais said.

Friday’s chilling winds did not keep Rainer-Maria’s fans away from D.C. A sizable crowd formed at the Black Cat Club by the time Rainer-Maria took the stage.

While the band drew a variety of ages and types, college-aged fans and early-twenty-somethings prevailed.

Unlike harder rock acts, Rainer-Maria’s fan base appears to have a gender balanc
e, as the crowd seemed to be an almost 50/50 split of men and women.
The Black Cat, owned by Foo Fighters guitarist-singer David Grohl, is one of D.C.’s most vibrant hotspots for alternative and local music. The club offers a more intimate setting than the cold, mini-arena feel of the nearby 9:30 Club. With an eclectic collection of original artwork covering the walls and hanging over the bar, low-lying couches and hanging icicle lights over the audience, the Black Cat gives fans a cozier setting to enjoy their favorite underground bands.

The crowd waited patiently when members of Rainer-Maria quietly set up their own equipment. Their appearance was plain and simple with no glamour or image separating the band from its audience. De Marrais, dressed in jeans and a black collared shirt, her hair tied back and wearing little if any makeup, lacks the front-man persona of most lead singers. She shared the stage with guitarist and back-up vocalist Kyle Fisher and drummer William Kuehn.

It took a few songs before De Marrais warmed up enough to perform to the best of her abilities. Her high notes got progressively louder and more certain as the set wore on.

Like everything else about Rainer-Maria, the band’s set list was a well-tempered mix of both new and old songs, drawing from its first two albums, Past Worn Searching and Look Now Look Again.

Songs from a new album, A Better Version of Me, released Jan. 23 by independent label Polyvinyl Records, received a positive crowd response, especially to such songs as “Seven Sisters,” “Thought I Was” and “Contents of Lincoln’s Pockets.”

The crowd remained still, giving to the music its due attention. Guitarist Kyle Fischer showed off stellar guitar hooks as he swung back and forth, staying in constant motion throughout the set. An impressive mid-song guitar switch with no break in the tempo showcased Fischer’s talent. De Marrais’ basslines were intelligent and melodic, complementing Fischer’s wash of singing guitar.

The band hit some snags near the end of the 90-minute set when, with one song to go, Fischer broke a string on his second guitar, forcing him to take a minute to change the string onstage. The crowd waited patiently, and De Marrais tried to keep them involved by telling admittedly bad jokes (“What did the fish say when it hit a brick wall?” “Dam.”). The pause worked out in the audience’s favor when the band decided to play more than just one last song, in deference to the fans’ patience. Rainer Maria played a fixed set with no encores, so the added number was an unusual bonus.

One of the two opening acts, Convocation Of, cancelled earlier in the night, so the show started late. Second openers, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, played a set of surf-inflected indie-rock that drew only a smattering of applause from the distracted audience. At the back of the room, a booth sold Rainer Maria merchandise, while another distributed vegan cookbooks and copies of The Unabomber’s Manifesto. Most of the crowd members were more concerned with snatching up the free pins and stickers the band offered, supporting a band whose lack of pretense is rare thing in the rock world.

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