Last Sunday night, I had the pleasure of watching Ryn Weaver take The Magic Bag’s stage, accompanied by openers HOLYCHILD and ASTR. It was unbelievably refreshing to see three strong female artists dominate the evening, and The Magic Bag turned out to be a musical gem tucked away in little old Ferndale, Mich.
What I knew about Weaver in the days leading up to the show was pretty much limited to what’s on Spotify. But like (probably) everyone else who has ever heard “OctaHate,” I got hooked pretty quick. She’s the girl next door/best friend type/pop star all wrapped into one mystical being with a voice that was made to be heard and a message to be respected. Her big doe eyes made me feel like I could tell her my deepest darkest secrets, her tequila-infused messy hair made me simultaneously remember and be OK with the fact that I hadn’t brushed my own in about three days (oops). Her 45 minutes on stage gave us a peek into her life, and it was beautiful.
But before all that, HOLYCHILD had my ears absolutely glued to their original “brat pop” sound. Leading lady Liz Nistico described the style to me as a kind of weird yet accessible way to get people thinking differently about themselves and their relationships, and it’s working. The songs are fun and catchy, but their messages deal with issues of sexism, materialism, narcissism and more. They use sarcasm like camp uses exaggeration to make a variety of social critiques and really make the audience pay attention. They are not just pop.
However, they do make for a great time. Taking advantage of the intimate space, Nistico hopped off stage more than once to dance around the venue as I imagine she dances around her own bedroom. Only here, there were fans in the audience she could embrace as she went, jamming along with everyone and sweetly, victoriously proclaiming “I love you!” at the end of her off-stage journey. We love you too, Liz.
We also loved Zoe Silverman and Adam Pallin of ASTR, who were riding high on celebratory vibes after releasing a new EP just last week. Silverman is unbelievably comfortable on stage, vocals in perfect conversation with Pallin’s electronic/techno-sounding production inspired by ’90s R&B. The two make a great team, landing their “Varsity” EP on SPIN’s Top 20 Pop Albums of 2014, making appearances at SXSW, and challenging industry sexism right along with HOLYCHILD. I can only image the attitude Silverman projected on stage makes her equally badass off stage; it was a performance whose power I wanted to harness for myself, and I haven’t yet ruled out the idea of following them around the country in an attempt to absorb what makes them so freakin’ cool.
After much anticipation, Weaver started out with pop banger “Pierre” and continued with “Sail On,” interestingly inspired by the same guy she wrote breakup song “OctaHate” about. But this song adopts a significantly angrier style and dismissive message that demonstrates both her musical range and ability to rouse a crowd. She sings as naturally as she speaks, which in the case of “Sail On” also involved a kind of screaming I haven’t heard since my younger sister was in diapers. It’s excellent screaming, though. It goes with the way she bares her teeth — and just about as much of her soul as she can — when she sings, bringing a full spectrum of human emotions into her performance.
A self-professed blob of feelings, Weaver wears her heart on her sleeve, and the show as a whole made me believe we’re entering an era of artists being more truly accessible than ever before (not just because of 24/7 social media updates). Songwriting has always been a way of expressing emotion, and performing has often been described as cathartic, including by Weaver herself. But her album and her performance are so much more than a collection of sad songs. “Sail On” is the story of cleaning up emotional messes left by shitty boyfriends, “The Fool” and “New Constellations” walk the line of being selfish or maybe just being human, “Traveling Song” and the way her band stops to let her cry as she recites the last lines is a testament to loss as part of the beauty of humanity. It all means something to her, and by extension, means something to her adoring fans.
The fact that I happened to catch her at such a small venue made me feel like I was watching a star being born. But in reality, Weaver has a whole list of accomplishments indicative of a star whose steady shine is simply continuing to radiate. “OctaHate” had a million listens just one week after appearing on SoundCloud, but that was over one year ago. She’s since become a part of the uber-successful world of producer Benny Blanco (known for his work with the likes of Maroon 5, Katy Perry and Rihanna) and Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos, who both had a hand making Weaver’s album “The Fool” what it is. Not to mention a roster of important performances around the country, from the Bowery Ballroom in New York, to The Troubadour in L.A. and plenty of huge festivals in between (Bonnaroo, Lolapallooza and Outside Lands, to name a few).
With a happy, heartfelt speech early on in the show, Weaver identified herself as a “misfit toy,” a motif taken from a childhood shaped in part by watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Though she chooses not to name her fan base (“my crew cannot be defined by one name”), Weaver revealed her suspicion that its members just might be misfit toys as well. More than just making great music, her career is cultivating a community of love and acceptance in the face of loss and sadness she sings about, just the way music should. She emboldens herself with the power to get us all through the not-so-lovely parts of life thanks to a little song and dance, and as a newfound, lifelong member of the “mad crazy weird emotional complex” Ryn Weaver misfit toys crew, I’m confident that we’ll all get through it just fine.