The night before Donald Trump’s inauguration, a Californian indie pop act tried to drown out the pervasive air of dread with some chill vibes. TV Girl’s tour stopped into the nation’s capital last Thursday at the Black Cat, in the venue’s downstairs annex behind the Red Room Bar. The trio’s sunny, slight brand of sample-based L.A. pop music has evolved since their early EPs into something decidedly more dancey and party-ready. But before all the tipsy swaying and ironic hipster dabbing could begin, there were a pair of opening acts with a much sharper edge.

First up, local noisepop group Stronger Sex’s Johnny Fantastic provided a DJ set that was at once tongue in cheek (featuring an experimental cover of t.A.T.u’s “Not Gonna Get Us”), topical (“Inauguration Day”), and incendiary (“The Fuck Trump Strut”). At the beginning of their set, Johnny casually addressed that 2017 may be the year to retire that stage moniker and that they had chosen the name Jane for themselves. But it may have been “Jen.” Their voice was as soft as the discordant electronica they played was cacophonous. Fantastic’s music was overpowering at times, but tracks that rattled the walls with intense low end would smoothly give way to more danceable rhythms, before sinking back into chaos punctuated by difficult lyrics tackling dysmorphia.

Though not without its thrills, the set was a challenging way to start the evening, but one that felt appropriate given the new world we would be entering on the next afternoon. It also made for a smart preamble to Poppet, the towering alter ego of baroque pop artist Molly Raney. Her Poppet show is an incredible, affecting exercise in the power of voice. She uses looping similar to the way Fantastic did, but where the earlier act perverted synths and electro noise, Raney stacks layer upon layer of her strangely mutable vox into a shrieking maelstrom of emotion and depth. Early on, she had to interrupt her otherwise fluid songcraft to ask the sound guy to turn everything up louder. “This is supposed to be powerful!” she pleaded. Everything that followed certainly was.

Songs bleeding into one another like long movements of thought, Raney comes off like a considerably less cloying Joanna Newsom, but with the added bonus of staggering hip-hop-like drums chopping up her vocal acrobatics. The stand out was an oddly stirring cover of Radiohead’s “Idioteque” that seemed to win over even the most skeptical of audience members who came too early for TV Girl and couldn’t comprehend the level of aural complexity on hand. Poppet’s set ended with another round of pleas for supporting the arts in the new era of Trump and also the promise of some esoteric jams she was selling at her merch table after the show.

By the time TV Girl finally took to the stage, it was hard not to be underwhelmed by their breezy tunes. Surely, their lighter touch was welcome on the eve of such nauseating current events, but two back-to-back performances by fiercely experimental musicians made for stark contrast. They opened with “If You Want It”, a bittersweet stomper from their first EP, but this reinterpretation drained the track of its verve (not to mention that killer Todd Rundgren sample). The rest of their set primarily featured songs from their two full-length albums, 2014’s French Exit and 2016’s Who Really Cares.

The core band members have low-key stage presence, particularly lead vocalist Brad Petering. On wax, his laconic delivery is key to lending character to his otherwise first-draft-worthy lyricism, but live and direct, there’s a somnambulance to the way he sings. Luckily for both the band and the audience, Raney played alongside TV Girl for their entire set, adding background vocals and a lot of manic energy to the proceedings. (Her carefree dancing was also leagues ahead of her stage-mates, not to mention most of the audience.)

TV Girl has moved on from the lo-fi, sample-based nostalgia of their early EPs and has found a more mainstream audience for their newer tunes, but perhaps more of their old energy would’ve been a better fit for the mood of the city and the two opening acts.

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