I want intimacy in my music. I look for emotion in songs and yank it out with my bare fists, ingesting it into myself. And what is a concert but a way to project music’s intimacy into three dimensions?
While a successful artist — the one with “the X factor” — can entrance a stadium full of thousands of people, a different challenge presents itself in the smoky back rooms of shady concert venues. An intimate venue calls for an intimate presence: We’re all in on the secret, shared between the back room’s enclosed walls.
In one such back room at the Black Cat (semi-discovered DC dive bar and concert venue), Paperwhite frontwoman Katie Marshall invites us inside her secrets. Throughout her performance, I imagine her standing in front of the gates of the Secret Garden, finger crooked towards us. She deftly breaks the rusted lock and pushes the gates open, hair swinging behind her and catching impossible glints of sunlight, allowing us to see the most intimate parts of her.
Katie occupies all of center stage, constantly reaching out and pulling us into her. She makes eye contact with every audience member in the venue as we crowd closer. Her eyes are at times fierce and passionate, but the warmth — the invitation — never leaves her face. Her bandmates, including brother Ben Marshall, drink in the audience with warmth, too. While they tend more to frame Katie than to draw attention to themselves, they’re happy to do so and bask in the atmosphere of the stage.
Paperwhite’s music is itself an expression of intimacy. Epitomizing dream pop’s ‘80s-synth movement, EPs Escape and Magic reach out to us the same way Katie Marshall does during her performances. We feel hypnotized by airy positivity; our heads nod and our bodies move until we’re all grooving together amidst shimmering electronics. All of Paperwhite’s songs — though particularly ones like “Wanderlust,” “Storm,” and “Magic” — encase us in a longing that eclipses words.
When we experience this three-dimensional performance of intimacy, longing, and shared secrets, we are connected by the synths, the movements, and the words alike. But best of all, Paperwhite’s reaction to us (the audience) is just as awestruck as ours to them. Katie let us into her secrets, and we somehow did the same for her. Just by collectively releasing our inhibitions to enjoy a shared experience, we lowered the barriers between audience and artist. We had as much to give Paperwhite as they had to give us.
The concert ended and Katie talked, took selfies, and signed phone cases, but the audience/artist dynamic had not been restored. We were still equals. We thanked her for her performance, told her she didn’t need to be so surprised that people deeply connected to her work. She thanked us for showing our support, for understanding what she was trying to give us. Our mutual respect and adoration allowed us to share that most intimate experience — the concert — in a way none of us are likely to forget.
I want you to notice/Some moments are rare/Don’t take me for granted/Just take me there
-“Take Me Back”
Carson is a 23-year-old who discovered the joys of the Backstreet Boys two years ago, when she fell down a pink fur-lined rabbit hole into the world of pop. She has since taken it upon herself to make an exodus into the underbelly of the glitter-covered beast. You can find her Spotify account here and you can also find her on Tumblr.