Marissa Nadler/Faces on Film at DC9

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Sunday, June 24, 2012

About a year ago or so I was looking at shows that were coming through the Washington DC area and Marissa Nadler caught my attention. Her somber folk with American Gothic inspiration stood out thanks to her incredible voice that soared over the instrumentals. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it out to that particular show, so when a quick look at coming events revealed that she was returning to DC and performing at DC9 I knew I couldn’t miss out. Nadler’s haunting stage presence and incredible voice made her set one of the most memorable I’ve been to recently and anyone who has the chance to check her out in their city should do so as the experience is worth it.

A local singer/songwriter named Marian McLaughlin was picked to open the DC date, but I got a late start and made it to the venue right as she was performing her last song. I don’t like to judge an artist’s performance on that little of their set, so I will just say that the song I heard sounded great and hopefully I’ll be able to catch her on more shows in the near future. In the meantime I have linked to what material is available online at the end of the article so that you can decide for yourself.

The first musician I saw a full set from was Faces on Film, who was acting as direct support for Marissa Nadler on this current trek. While it appears that this group started off as singer/guitarist Mike Fiore performing with a full band but recently it has been stripped down a bit. On this particular tour Fiore was performing solo and based on the material that I had previewed prior to the show this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The songs that were available through Soundcloud and Youtube were a mix of indie rock, alt-country and folk and the live performance offered similar sounds. As his set was entirely acoustic it placed equal emphasis on his guitar playing and singing, but both elements of the performance were up to par and as a whole the music was enjoyable. Faces on Film in its solo version reminds me of some of the folk/alt-country singer/songwriters that use just guitar and vocals to create soaring soundscapes that make you want to head out on a road trip. Mike Fiore has a very mellow, laid back voice that was well suited to the type of material he is playing and rather than telling lengthy detailed stories his lyrical content goes for slightly more abstract ideas that still are able to capture the attention of the listener. One thing I was worried about was that the songs might sound the same as this is an issue some songwriters run into when they go from a full band to solo material, but each song had a different hook to it. It wasn’t 100% clear if Faces on Film will continue as a pure solo affair or if some backing musicians will eventually be added back in, but no matter which direction the project takes it is enjoyable to listen to and has the potential to go much further.

Marissa Nadler took the stage only a short time after Faces on Film had finished playing (one of the great things about acoustic shows is it doesn’t take that long for acts to set up so there is little downtime) and went on to perform a lengthy set spanning different points in her career. The way that she sings along with her mic setup allows the vocals to have an ethereal quality to them and at times the sound still lingered in the air for a few moments after Nadler had finished playing a particular song. Even if the mic wasn’t setup to allow for some echo she would still sound incredible, as her voice is incredibly powerful and sucks the listener in so that they hang on every single word. It also helps that the guitar arrangements work in the same way, as they use sparse melodies that twist and turn just enough to keep you completely tuned in. Songs such as “Dying Breed” are a perfect example of this, as Marissa Nadler sings softly over her somber guitar playing to create an entrancing arrangement. Despite the fact that her material is fairly somber and melancholic in nature, what’s interesting is that when you’re listening to her play and watching her on-stage you don’t necessarily feel sad but are instead put into a trancelike state. The set included some new material from this year’s album The Sister, and despite the fact that Nadler admitted she had barely played some of these songs in front of an audience before she looked completely in control and the quality of her performance did not waver one bit. About three quarters of the way into her set, Marissa invited Mike from Faces on Film onstage to do some duets with her and even though they had fairly different vocal styles the two complemented each other nicely. I was in such a trance from the performance that it seemed as though it had ended almost as soon as it began, and Marissa Nadler is the type of artist that I could watch for hours on end if she were willing to play for that long. Her approach to folk feels different from many of the other singer/songwriters out there, and if you don’t mind the somber, melancholic feel of her material she is worth checking out in person.


Marian McLaughlin-
Faces on Film-
Marissa Nadler-

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