Los Angeles – Delta Rae is named after a fictional little girl who awakens the Greek gods to save the world. The character is from a novel by siblings Eric, Brittany and Ian Holljes’s mother, and oddly enough, it is a perfect description of their band live.
Playing from atop the world at member-exclusive Soho House on Sunset Boulevard, with a backdrop and wall-to-wall views of Los Angeles, twinkling against a black sky, it was an intimate show that seemed to shock most of its accidental onlookers—there only for dinner or drinks.
They’re a hard band not to pay full attention to, or to stare at—gapingly. Their music sounds exorcised. Each of the six members are multi-instrumentalists, and they rotate between keyboard, guitars, ukulele, garbage can drums, chains, bass drum, maracas, beating drumsticks together, singing… It feels religious. Deep south, maybe Voodoo religious. They definitely have a True Blood thing going on.
The band played six songs in a set barely thirty minutes, which included “Bottom of the River,” “Chasing Twisters” and “I Don’t Love You,” and a brand new song they hope will “make the cut” on their forthcoming album, for which they are in L.A. recording. Currently Delta Rae is only playing sparse shows, like this one and another in San Francisco this week. Their official tour will launch in February in Washington, D.C.
The core of the Durham, NC band might be its three siblings – Eric, Brittany and Ian – who all look perfectly suited to be Gap models – blonde, beautiful, squeaky-clean and Nordic looking. All three sing independently and in harmony depending on the song. You couldn’t really call one or the other the “lead singer,” including singer and occasional collaborative drummer Elizabeth Hopkins, the lead vocalist on “I Don’t Love You.” This is very evident in watching their music videos. Depending on which one you see, any one might be mistaken for “the lead singer.”
In this sense, they’re more like a choir, all pieces of a bigger picture. Their performance was akin to watching the inner workings of a clock, especially in the tight space, which had them moving around each other in a practiced, almost comical way. They all play their part—vocally and otherwise, an ensemble. Rounding off the band are Mike McKee (drums) and Grant Emerson (bass), who joined the original four in 2010.
Lyrically, Delta Rae is not super innovative. There’s a lot of repetition and chanting. Most songs have a nature theme or a spiritual theme, finding peace or surviving life’s battles. Watching them, you sort of look around wondering… Did I stumble into a Christian rock show? They have no official religious affiliation, but they do feel like a church youth group grown up. In fact, anyone not watching them live, only hearing their album or seeing a video, might be immediately turned off by how High School Musical-esque they are. Their videos especially can be very cheese-tastic. But live, they are absolutely phenomenal—an experience conducive to awakening gods.
Heavy on drums, they have thunderous appeal. A combination of folk, gospel and rock, and often very country, they are passionate, visceral performers, playing like their life depended on it. They’re strongly in tune with one another, on a frequency almost removed from audience and venue. They have a way of playing unconsciously, and at the same time, consciously. Some of the more unique moments: “Chasing Twisters” begins with a perfectly pitched whistle solo straight out of a western. You half expected Clint Eastwood to step forward and sling his metal vest to the ground. And on “Bottom of the River,” their choreographed bowed heads, and the sound of chains—an innovative move by drummer Mike McKee that contributed to the dangerous, sensual, slave feel of the song.
It was a show that could very easily have gone awkward if the band was only marginally good. Playing to a celebrity and industry exclusive club, where most audience members are expecting food and a casual drink… Not likely to be conducive to a relatively unknown band bent on spiritual possession—but they loved it.