featuring Ashe and Christian French
February 27, 2019 at House of Blues
The night was snowy, the college kids were drunk, and the music was truthful. Whether fans entered Boston’s House of Blues knowing one line or every word he has written, Quinn XCII’s performance left little room for disappointment.
Quinn XCII has enjoyed a rapid road to success since his debut EP Change of Scenery in 2015. He released his sophomore studio album, From Michigan, With Love, in February of this year—just ahead of his tour that landed in Boston for back to back nights at the end of the month. But before the man known for the vocals behind the hit song “Kings of Summer” hit the stage, the anxious crowd was happy to hear from two openers, the second of which gave a memorable performance.
Christian French was in a rare position for the first opener at any show—most of the crowd knew his music. Despite this advantage, he made no effort to engage with the crowd for most of his set. Whether this was a result of ego or exhaustion, I do not know, but the performance was underwhelming nonetheless.
As the crowd started filling up the floor at the House of Blues, Ashe came to stage with only a drummer to aid her. Her tall, warm presence was brought to life as she walked on stage with tea in hand and declared, “I will be disappointed if we’re not all best friends by the end of tonight.” Sipping tea between songs, she casually mentioned “recently [getting] over pneumonia,” giving each high note a story of both pain and power. Known to most of the concert-goers only for her new song with Quinn XCII, “Right Where You Should Be,” Ashe left the crowd stunned by her “sick” voice.
As Ashe’s warmth left the stage and the crowd’s anticipation for Quinn XCII grew, the smell of Cool Mint Juul rippled through the air, carrying just enough nicotine to keep the crowd on their feet. The stimulant came just in the nick of time as the alcohol from a Wednesday night pre-game was wearing off for the (mostly) underage crowd. A countdown lit up the stage at T-4:00 and the crowd squeezed in tighter with anticipation. When the clock struck 0:00, three men in white jump-suits made their way to the stage. The lights intensified switching red to green to black and illuminating Quinn XCII, front and center, as he sang: “We take this red pill, green pill, black pill / I know deep down we’re sad still.”
His most recent album, From Michigan, With Love, covers a wide range of mental health topics, and the first half of the set was primarily devoted to those pieces. Stories about break-ups, childhood heroes and toxic masculinity created a vulnerability impossible to ignore.
Ashe came back for a well-deserved cameo performance of “Right Where You Should Be” and secured her place in the crowd’s heart. Everyone in this jam-packed venue knew at least one song by Quinn XCII, and he made sure they remembered his performance of the hit single “Straightjacket.” He slowly migrated off the stage after an acoustic performance of “Panama” and made his way to the center of the floor to shout, “She’s a psycho from a midwestern suburb,” and give the crowd something to scream about.
This was emblematic of a shift in theme, from songs to sing along with to sad songs to belt in the shower:
“You’re the worst!” (“Worst”)
“You’re not so tough—I know that nightlight’s on when you sleep.” (“Tough”)
“Jumpin’ off the porch like mom’s not home.” (“Kings of Summer” by Ayokay feat. Quinn XCII)
As he walked out on stage for the encore, I wondered what songs could possibly be left after the young artist’s grueling set. He played two older songs he had released as singles, “Another Day in Paradise” and “Flare Guns,” but also surprised the crowd with a beautiful, subtle rendition of Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning.” He finished off the concert with a stage dive, then left the crowd to file out of the venue into an evening more snowy and brisk than the one they departed earlier. This cold Boston weather was met by warm smiling faces of people rejuvenated in the middle of a week by sincere, fun music.
Photos by Hulda Zheng