Massive harmonies and twangy, soulful vocals filled Paradise Rock Club, making the venue feel like it belonged somewhere in Nashville rather than New England.
Delta Rae has a shirt for sale that reads, “We’ll go to any city where they still play rock & roll.” On Friday night, that city was Boston, Massachusetts, where the folk and country rock group shared their mint julep-infused spirit by crafting an intoxicating set full of giant hooks and stomping honkytonk. Massive harmonies and twangy, soulful vocals filled Paradise Rock Club, making the venue feel like it belonged somewhere in Nashville rather than New England.
Opener Lauren Jenkins also brought a Southern charm during her bourbon-tinged set of country songs. Backed by Delta Rae’s jack-of-all-trades Gideon Klein on guitar and harmonies, Jenkins played a rattling acoustic set of radio-friendly country, interspersing sips of Maker’s and a candid self-deprecating humor between songs. Standouts from her set included the energetic earworm “My Bar,” the thoughtful “No Saint,” and the excellent cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” With a sound similar to Miranda Lambert and Maren Morris, Lauren Jenkins will certainly be a country singer to watch out for in the coming months.
After “pre-gaming” with Jenkins, to use her words, Delta Rae clambered onto the stage to torrents of applause and launched into “I Moved South,” a catchy pop-rock tune celebrating all things Southern. Frontwomen Liz Hopkins and Brittany Hólljes traded vocal lines in the verses as they danced over every inch of the stage, before coming together with Brittany’s brothers Eric and Ian for the larger-than-life harmonies in the chorus. Keeping the energy high, the band got the venue jumping by playing another song off of their recent four-song release, A Long and Happy Life. “Ain’t Love” bounced with a country disco enthusiasm, buoyed by Eric Hólljes’ infectious piano and Mike McKee’s pounding drums. Despite being a song about pain and love, heartache never felt so exuberant and danceable.
After reaching back to their gospel roots with “No Dry Eye in the Chapel,” the band rocked a tremendous cover of Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman.” The song’s placement in the set was fitting, as it came directly after Brittany Hólljes deftly shut down a drunken audience member’s catcall. It was the perfect sonic retort to unwelcome misogyny and resulted in a very vocal applause from the men and women in the audience.
This wasn’t the only stand the band took on Friday night. Twice more during the set, Hopkins and Hólljes made direct political and social statements. The first came when the band detailed their Tickets for Teachers program, which honors the integral role educators play in society by giving away free tickets and meet-and-greets to a select number of teachers each night of the tour.
Most poignant, however, was Hólljes’ dedication of “All Good People” to those who are victims of racial oppression and to those who stand up to fight it. Written in the aftermath of the white supremacist violence carried out against minorities in their place of worship in Charleston, South Carolina two years ago, the song accrued extra resonance in the wake of the recent tragedy that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia. As the band gathered together around a single microphone to sing in four-part harmony, the audience added their own voice, making the Paradise reverberate with the moving lyrics, “Raise your voice above the raging seas/We can’t hold our breath forever when our brothers cannot breathe.”
Similarly tear-inducing was the band’s stripped-down rendition of another new song, “No Peace and Quiet,” written by Eric Hólljes after a painful break-up. Unable to sing the song himself because of its emotional difficulty, Hopkins and Brittany Hólljes lifted him up with their voices. This again demonstrated the band’s desire to raise up others and illustrating music’s function as a vehicle for compassion.
The rest of the set was high-octane, filled with other standouts such as After It All’s “Run,” a rollicking jaunt that featured Gideon Klein’s remarkable fiddle playing, and Carry the Fire’s “Morning Comes,” which put Eric Hólljes’ impressive vocal range on display.
After a brief cover of “I Put a Spell on You,” Delta Rae brought their set to a close with their first single to debut on country radio, “A Long and Happy Life.” The song encapsulates everything Delta Rae has to offer: gargantuan sing-along hooks, thumping rhythms and an indelibly Southern soul.
Returning to the stage for a single-song encore that began with a brief drum solo, the band embarked on Carry the Fire’s “Dance in the Graveyard” before seamlessly transitioning into Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” keeping the audience buzzing and moving even after the song’s final notes.
Altogether, Delta Rae presented a dynamic set, equal parts high energy and socially thoughtful. The night was one of sonic communion between the band and the audience, as they reinvigorated not only what it means to be a group of talented musicians, but also to be a group of strong-willed social advocates. In this way, the band brought much more than just a Southern spirit into Boston’s Paradise.