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Kali Uchis

All but one of the acts I saw on Wednesday at SXSW were fronted by women—-a definite shift from previous years at SXSW, when seeing woman-fronted acts for several hours straight probably wouldn’t have happened across six different venues without a dedicated plan.

D.C. four-piece Pree (who I’m crashing with this week) played the first of its three SXSW shows at a bar called Nasty’s at 7 p.m., and it was clearly a warm-up show—-not because of any glaring errors (the band had toured down to the festival and played with the sort of energy and tightness that’s necessary for its many melodic twists and tempo shifts), but because the group played for, at most, 15 people in a bar that wasn’t terribly close to any foot traffic. That said, a show played for primarily labelmates and bar regulars can seem much longer than it really is. Pree exhibited the sort of onstage charm that made the announcement of its last song come as something of a surprise.

Prinze George

Later on, it was off to Buffalo Billiards to see Maryland trio Prinze George. Having a sunny pop group on the top floor of a bar replete with pool tables, bracket strategists, and ambient sports bar noise coming from lower levels seems like a terrible idea, but these three made it work better than GEMS did the previous year in the same space. All three band members wore full-on white outfits, and singer Naomi Almquist went for a Greek goddess vibe with gold hair accoutrements. The band’s M.O. was to make the crowd dance, and it sure did. Almquist’s soulful voice matched nicely with the group’s poppy synthesized melodies, and drummer Isabelle De Leon kept not only kept a steady beat but a steady smile, too. Several people in the crowd had clearly just walked in on a recommendation or a whim, because the buzz in the crowd was, “They’re actually pretty good!” If Prinze George leaves the D.C. area, it’s not going to be for New York (where the band actually formed)—-it’ll be Los Angeles. In fact, a singer who did just that, Misun Wojcik, does guest vocals on the Prinze George EP.

If the stars align and all goes correctly with the universe, Kali Uchis will achieve Amy Winehouse (or at least Robyn) levels of stardom, and everyone at the old Emo’s space will have serious bragging rights. The Colombian-born Virginia resident (who also recently decamped for L.A.) has made her name on a sultry voice and smooth grooves, and her sensuality was only amplified onstage. It wasn’t just because the tiger tattoo on swinging hip was visible or because she knew how to toss her hair around. She also exhibited an air of grace and controlled the room with ease. Her voice actually sounded more exciting live than it did on album. Uchis attracted a good number of fans to her SXSW show, and they yelled things like “Thank you for existing!” as she introduced her songs. The aggressive zeal of these fans did shake her a little bit—-Uchis showed some fear and embarrassment when the shows of appreciation got especially intense. She had to physically brush off one person that shook her hand for a little too long. Luckily, Uchis probably won’t play in warehouses with concrete floors and horrible bathrooms for much longer.

Photos by Valerie Paschall