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Live Review: Nation of Language @ 9:30 Club — 6/16/24

Nation of Language are sincerely a breath of fresh air.

The Brooklyn new wave trio recently breezed into 9:30 Club for a bright set of music that drew from their three studio albums, and audience absolutely could not get enough of the band’s earnest immersion in their synth sounds and their dedication to their songcraft.

On June 16 at 9:30 Club, Nation of Language continued a tour in celebration of their third album, 2023’s Strange Disciple. The tour first hit The Atlantis last year, where a boisterous sold-out crowd applauded Nation of Language heartily. This recent return date was Nation of Language’s biggest DC show yet, and they came very close to selling out the venue.

The 9:30 Club audience gathered eagerly and listened intently to the 16-song set. Although folks were initially somewhat reserved, people were dancing with abandon and cheering heartily by the end of the show. Frontman Ian Richard Devaney won much of that love for his ability to get lost in his own music. He danced and strutted along the stage in his own world, totally feeling his lyrics in time to the band’s melodies.

While Ian was indeed a delight, his wife Aidan Noell was a sight to behold on synthesizers. Aidan has grown tremendously in confidence since the very first time that I saw Nation of Language, when they appeared at 9:30 Club to open The Wombats. During that show, Ian announced he and Aidan had quit their day jobs to fully dedicate themselves to their band upon offer of The Wombats’ opening gig, and that dedication has now paid off in spades with their own headlining 9:30 Club show.

One of my personal favorite moments in a Nation of Language show happens when Ian joins Aidan at the synthesizer for a jam, and you can palpably feel the love and respect the two musicians have for one another. That moment came early at 9:30 Club during the first song of the night — “A New Goodbye,” lifted from the wonderful Strange Disciple.

After the tender *and* musically thrilling moment, Ian bounced across the stage again to dance frenetically away. Nation of Language then dove into their debut full-length record, Introduction, Presence, surely one of the strongest debut albums in recent years, with “Rush & Fever” and “On Division St.”

Watch the official music video for “On Division St.” by Nation of Language on YouTube:

Nation of Language saluted their second studio album, A Way Forward, in the latter half of the show with presentations of “The Grey Commute” and “This Fractured Mind.” As the show progressed, the band got a bit more chatty with the audience, wishing their manager happy birthday and welcoming Ian’s parents to the show. The three bandmates were in good spirits, and their banter was that of old friends comfortable on their stage.

In addition to Ian and Aidan, the band includes Alex MacKay on bass, and Alex appeared with the band last year in their show at The Atlantis. With Strange Disciple, Alex replaced bassist Michael Sue-Poi, and I got to say Nation of Language are better for it. Alex really grooves in the material and appeared really committed to the music. He was very good at reading the body language of his bandmates and anticipating their next moves, and he kept the songs flowing well. Alex also really has a great synthpop band look, which in his case is a quite androgynous but grounded appearance.

Alex recently remixed Strange Disciple’s “Spare Me the Decision,” and the new version is labeled “Cutouts remix” after Alex’s other band, Cutouts. At 9:30 Club, Nation of Language began a three-song encore with the song, a lovely sentimental song where Ian picks up a guitar. It’s quite a seductive number actually because of the bass, and so it’s a great example of how well Alex contributes to and meshes with the band.

The rest of the encore included two of Nation of Language’s most powerful songs — “Weak in Your Light” from Strange Disciple and “Across That Fine Line” from A Way Forward. Nation of Language have made no secret that Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark is one of the bands that inspire them, and OMD-flavored synth textures are a staple of their musical mix. That said, “Weak in Your Light” may well be the most OMD song ever not written by OMD.

Watch Nation of Language perform “Weak in Your Light” live on KEXP via YouTube:

A defining characteristic of Nation of Language is their sincerity. They are not out to be ironic or create pastiche. They are stepped in the music of their synthpop predecessors, but they have their own personality and presentation.

Nation of Language remain an extraordinary band to experience live, and I urge you to catch them in concert.

Here are some photos of Nation of Language performing at 9:30 Club on June 16, 2024. All pictures by Mickey McCarter.


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