If Empress Of seems like an overnight sensation, a Pitchfork Best New Music out of nowhere, think again. Since 2012, Lorely Rodriguez has been dripping music into the web, with the 2013 EP Systems getting her all sorts of notice and giving way to her long-in-the-works, recently released debut LP, Me.
Though based in Brooklyn, Rodriguez was raised in Los Angeles. Her debut headlining performance in the city, a sold-out set at the Echo on Wednesday night, was draped in nervous exuberance, as the desire to succeed and impress couldn’t be hidden in the darkened venue.
With an act like Empress Of, who played it cool with backlighting and rarely revealed her face to the attentive crowd, it was the humanizing elements that made the show a success. We’ve all been bombarded with mystery for the past several years, with artists playing up secrecy to gain attention. But once they’ve gained the spotlight, their next job is to make the audience care, which is just what Rodriguez was able to do on Wednesday night.
Opening song “Water Water” landed like a meteor, with the audience instantly moving with the rhythm. They knew the words already and could sing along with Rodriguez. The fans didn’t react as strongly to every song, but the opening series of songs leading into one of her strongest tracks, “Standard”, engaged, despite being played without revealing much beyond her silhouette. Her guard came down for “Standard” as Rodriguez began engaging the crowd, revealing that her mother was in the audience and announcing she would be meeting anyone in attendance that wanted to come up and say hi.
Rodriguez would apologize for the short set, admitting she only has a single album’s worth of songs to choose from. But a strong ending of “How Do You Do It” and “Kitty Kat”, with no encore, punctuated the evening with its proper exclamation mark. The latter song saw Rodriguez shaking her hair and striking poses to the oscillating strobes. It was full of the drama that the rest of the set hinted at, exhibiting promise that Empress Of could benefit from a larger stage, from a bigger production. For now, the Echo provided a moment for her to conquer; her first ever LA headlining appearance made just another notch on her belt.