Laufey at The Lincoln Theatre: Concert Recap and Review
By Tifa Nguyen and Noah Temple
This review was written in collaboration by both authors. The use of personal pronouns has been edited for clarity.
Laufey’s “Bewitched Tour” came to the Lincoln Theatre in D.C. on Saturday, November 4th. Tifa Nguyen and Noah Temple were both fortunate enough to see the full live performance. Although Laufey’s performance was fantastic and filled with rich vocals and stunning lights, the lack of concert etiquette from the crowd was distracting.
Laufey (pronounced Lay-vay) is an LA-based classically trained musician who grew up moving between Iceland and DC. She has found major online success with her songs going viral on Tiktok and topping Spotify’s jazz charts, although this seems to be a major point of contention in online jazz circles with lots of debate as to whether Laufey fits within the parameters of jazz or if her music is more reminiscent of show tunes.
Laufey writes, composes, and produces her own music, which takes heavy inspiration from bossa nova, jazz, pop, and classical genres. She is also talented at playing a plethora of instruments and has played both the piano and cello for over a decade. She has been a part of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra as a cello soloist and even graduated from the Reykjavik College of Music.
Laufey often includes her identical twin sister Junia in her videos. Many “Laufey truthers” or conspiracy theorists like to deny her existence, but she is very much a real and separate person. One of the songs played at the concert, “Best Friend”, was written for and dedicated to Junia.
Before the Concert
The line outside the venue wrapped around the alleyway shared between the Lincoln Theatre and the iconic dining establishment Ben’s Chili Bowl. As Tifa and Noah waited in line, the smell of chili and fries wafted right to them and made their mouths water. The line to the venue was quick, but the line for the merch table was chaotic and extremely long. Admittedly, her merch was perfectly crafted for her target audience: unique items included a disposable camera donning a design relevant to her album Bewitched, a set of hair ribbons, and a heart keychain.
Walking into the venue was like entering the national spawn point of Sandy Liang consumers. Everybody had bows in their hair as if they had received a dress code. The venue was the physical incarnation of a “Sandy Liang-coquette-core-aesthetic-nymph-pastel-it-girl-vintage-Lana Del Rey” Pinterest search.
While waiting for the show to start, a mix of jazz classics and trendy TikTok songs played overhead.
Adam Melchor – Opener
Adam Melchor delivered a solid opening and talked very highly of Laufey as well as giving the audience insight into why he wrote some of his songs. Though he wasn’t Noah’s cup of tea, Noah emphasized that in no world is Melchor not talented. Melchor also took time to promote his new EP Fruitland– check that out on any and all streaming platforms.
In terms of Melchor’s sound, the acoustics in the venue were wonderful and even in the middle of the venue it was easy to hear him clearly. In the interest of not outshining the main act, Melchor did a really good job setting the stage for Laufey without making it feel like the crowd was missing out on anything else from him.
This set is where people started being mildly rude – people in the front row were typing away on their phones right in front of him or not really paying attention, which is semi-understandable if they only came for the main act, but still makes no sense since they decided to come early while the opener was performing.
The lights dimmed and the music changed to an ethereal orchestral instrumental. The crowd’s excitement was building resulting in a symphony of oohs and ahs ripe with anticipation until an arm peeked through the curtain before revealing the stage set with a drummer, a string bass, and a string quartet. Laufey then lifted one of three guitars and started to play her first song. Noah was a big fan of the three guitars and felt very inclined to lean in and whisper that he was a fan of the three guitars into Tifa’s ear.
Laufey sang in her rich and calming almost baritone voice mixed with bossa nova strumming patterns that completely entranced or bewitched (pun intended) the audience. At times it felt difficult to hear her due to the audio mixing of the bass and the backing track being a bit loud. Though Tifa felt this way, Noah said he could hear her just fine. (Maybe Tifa’s ears just don’t work.)
The atmosphere compared to the opener was night and day, and really went to show how impressive everything worked in conjunction: the lighting, the smoke, and most importantly Laufey’s vocals sounded even more incredible in person. The energy at the show was incredible and the atmosphere just felt so warm.
Laufey’s voice felt otherworldly and sounded somehow even better than studio recordings of her songs. The bass player was mixing it up and slapping the bass on stage during a brief interlude/intermission, which Tifa referred to as “the cats cookin’”.
Sprinkled in between the songs were stories of lost love and tidbits about her day that felt very down to Earth. Laufey mentioned that she had grown up in the DC area and was extremely happy to be back, and then noted that the fries she had eaten earlier were starting to get to her (but that they were very good).
One example of a story of lost love that later gave way as an introduction to a song was a recount of how she felt an immense culture shock when first moving to Los Angeles. It led to her song “Falling Behind” where the opening lyric of the first verse is about moving to a new city. The verse then cleverly ends with the line “Ooh, this can’t be right” which was sung with harmonic dissonance and an unresolved chord to create tension that led into the chorus.
For the song “I Wish You Love”, Laufey took a seat by the string quartet and let her classically trained music skills shine. Accompanied by a backing track, she played her cello and sang with a smooth jazz tone.
She later moved to a baby grand piano located center stage for her more melancholic songs. The lighting behind her also aided heavily in creating a dramatic atmosphere. During the iconic and saddening chorus of the song “Let You Break My Heart Again”, the spotlight was directly on her and her piano while the lights in the background resembled stars as if she was yearning for someone or something during the nighttime.
The people behind Tifa and Noah also agreed that it was a beautiful scene and wanted to immortalize the moment, resulting in the rest of the crowd being flashbanged by the flash of people’s phone cameras. Everyone in their vicinity immediately turned around to shoot them dirty looks.
A lot of moments where the crowd would get entranced by the instrumentals and the stunning visuals were unfortunately disrupted by the crowd’s behavior. One example was during the “Bewitched” interlude, a part of the show with breathtaking orchestral instrumentals. The focus of the audience was again drawn away from the stage due to someone taking flash photos.
Towards the end of her concert, Laufey talked about her time in DC and how much it meant to her to be back. She grew up in the northwestern part of the district, and the first two years of her music career were actually written and published right from her bedroom. She then tied the show together by singing her most popular song “From the Start”. In the last line of the song, she changed the lyrics and sang “…DC, I’ve loved you from the start” which was met with joyous uproar from the crowd.
As the night progressed, Laufey’s incredible start lost no momentum as each song garnered more applause from the crowd. Someone that wasn’t aware of her status as a musical powerhouse would leave the concert thinking nothing else. She swapped instruments multiple times throughout the concert from her selection of three guitars to the cello, as well as piano. One could almost expect her to pull out a one-woman band setup. Even with this she never snuffed her band, introducing them all by name and allowing them to steal the spotlight for a brief moment.
Even though there were only good things to say about Laufey’s performance there were glaring issues with the audience. It was frustrating to try and watch the show with multiple people constantly taking photos with the flash on, or using digital cameras to capture them and their friends while everyone behind them contorted their faces in agony.
The lack of concert etiquette has been a rather prevalent topic online post-COVID with situations like Steve Lacey, Death Grips, etc. As someone susceptible to seizures, Tifa was not expecting a Laufey concert to be an environment where she would have to be on guard to ensure that a bright light being suddenly shone into her face wouldn’t cause any damage to her well-being.
Ultimately, the crowd is what makes or breaks a concert experience and this crowd was just not it. This type of behavior is expected at a venue such as Capital One Arena, where there is a general admission pit but definitely not at a sit-down venue like the Lincoln Theater.
This incredibly frustrating experience led to dissatisfaction leaving the concert. The performance was wonderful but the constant flashing lights during songs only really served to detract from the listening and viewing experience. It soured Tifa and Noah for the rest of the evening, but they ended up eating afterward and that was cool. Ben’s Chili Bowl is solid (Tifa was a big fan of the banana pudding and has been thinking about it since).