by Ayanna Jacobs-El
Devonté “Dev” Hynes is an artist that I have wanted to see live for an extremely long time. I first fell in love with Dev’s music in middle school when I discovered his songs under his previous pseudonym Lightspeed Champion. As Lightspeed Champion he created quirky and honest, acoustic folk music that had touches of indie-rock and country. I am not someone who is usually drawn to folk music but Lightspeed Champion’s songs featured beautiful arrangements that included lush string and wind layers and I was drawn to his British singing voice and his unusual lyrical content. He released two albums as Lightspeed Champion, Falling Off the Lavender Bridge and Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You,) before retiring the project in order to focus on his new artistic iteration, Blood Orange.
As Blood Orange, Dev is writing music that ranges from 80s inspired new wave soul, to indie-rock and R&B. He is self-taught on piano and guitar and frequently uses these instruments to accompany his singing. An interesting fact about Dev is that he has a type of synesthesia called chromesthesia that causes him to associate sounds with color. He uses his abilities to “see” the colors of sound when he writes his music. As an artist, Blood Orange has been Dev’s most successful project (His song “You’re Not Good Enough” currently has well over 17 million streams on Spotify). Dev has also been successful as a producer and songwriter for other artists such as Solange, Florence and the Machine, The Chemical Brothers, Sky Ferreira, Britney Spears, and Carly Rae Jepsen. He also scored the 2013 film Palo Alto.
Blood Orange is currently on an international tour and I caught his sold-out show (933 capacity) at Paradise Rock Club in Allston. The venue was packed with a mostly younger crowd that all seemed really eager to see the show. His set was sprinkled with songs from his three albums (Freetown Sound (2016), Cupid Deluxe (2012), and Coastal Grooves (2011)) and he also included a number of unreleased new songs. Dev seemed completely at ease and as he sang and at times switched to emotional guitar solos. On his more popular songs like “Best to You“,”Augustine“, and “Better Than Me” the audience could clearly be heard singing along to every word and many people were dancing frantically as well. Overall, Dev kept a pretty calm and cool demeanor throughout the set and kept his talk between songs to a minimum. He would at times do some spins and simple dance moves while singing and playing guitar.
What I love about Dev’s music as Blood Orange is that while it is catchy and has a wide appeal he hasn’t sacrificed any of his creativity and still incorporates unique arranging elements just like when he was Lightspeed Champion. His music features some instruments that wouldn’t usually be found in the R&B and indie-rock contexts like marimba and saxophone. He has recorded with and brought on his tour the stellar saxophonist Jason Arce who really added a lot of energy and texture to the band and brought down the house with his solo on “It Is What It Is” (check out Jason Arce’s playing on “Chamakay“).
Dev ended the night with the band clearing the stage to leave him to sing an intimate and subdued electric piano cover of “What’s Happening Brother” by Marvin Gaye. This was a great surprise because it contrasted starkly from the huge sound achieved with the full band when they were playing his songs just a few minutes earlier. I think that was a nice way to close the night because Dev hasn’t been silent about the injustices that black people have been enduring in America. His songs like “Sandra’s Smile” and “Hands Up” talk about the pressing problems that still plague American society like police brutality and racial injustice. I think by leaving the audience with the question of “What’s Happening Brother” he was able to remind his audience (which was mainly made up of white people) of the importance to not forget about what injustices are still being faced by minorities and to hopefully figure out how they can help make a change in our society. Following his final song, the audience chanted and clapped, for a lengthy amount of time, for an encore but Dev didn’t return to the stage. I think because of the nature and important message of “What’s Happening Brother” performing more of his songs as an encore wouldn’t have been appropriate and most likely didn’t fit his vision of how he wanted to leave the audience. I respect his decision to not perform an encore and overall I was thoroughly pleased with my first experience seeing the talented and immensely creative Blood Orange perform live.
HAVE YOU HEARD BLOOD ORANGE’S MUSIC? LET US KNOW WHAT YOUR FAVORITE SONG OF HIS IS IN THE COMMENTS!