Snail Mail
Snail Mail by Tina Tyrell; courtesy of Grandstand Media

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“My mother taught me better,” Lindsey Jordan, better known as Snail Mail, crooned into the microphone on Sept. 9 to a sold-out crowd at the Fillmore Silver Spring, approximately a 40-minute drive from the Baltimore suburb where she grew up. She was in the middle of singing “Valentine,” the furious title track off her latest album. Then, for a moment, she broke the song’s spell, and exclaimed into the microphone: “Shout-out to my mother!”

Jordan’s mother and father were in the crowd, as were each and every single parent of her bandmates, she informed her audience early in the show. Throughout her set, the 23-year-old made sure to acknowledge every family member, friend, old teacher, and acquaintance who came out. Even the high school bullies got a shout-out.

The solo project called Snail Mail (now a three-piece band) was born in 2015, when Jordan was a 15-year-old growing up in Ellicott City who liked to spend her free time transforming intimate thoughts and feelings into catchy songs on her guitar. Pop punk, indie rock, and the lineup of the now-defunct Vans Warped Tour shaped Snail Mail’s sound. (In 2018, Jordan told Baltimore Magazine that seeing Paramore at 8 years old was a watershed moment in her life.)

Snail Mail started out playing intimate venues and independent festivals. At a Baltimore festival organized by Unregistered Nurse, Jordan caught the attention of D.C. rockers Priests, who recruited her to their label. Snail Mail’s first release was a 2016 EP called Habit, a master class in teenage angst. Lush, their 2018 debut album, cemented Jordan as a voice of her generation, and a leader of indie rock’s new guard, one filled with young women who expertly strum electric guitars and unabashedly sing about their feelings (think Soccer Mommy, the members of boygenius). 

Three years, and a pandemic that turned the world upside down, passed between Lush and Valentine, which was released in November 2021. As the world changed, so did Snail Mail. There’s a big difference between 18 and 21, and Valentine shows it. Where Lush is filled with wide-eyed proclamations about first love, Valentine is more concerned with the torrential heartbreak that follows. The album, which features Snail Mail’s first explicitly queer songs, feels more sure of itself. Even Jordan’s voice is different: lower, hoarser, and more raw than before.

That voice found itself in a health crisis shortly after Valentine’s release. Last winter, Jordan underwent vocal cord surgery, which forced Snail Mail to reschedule shows in the U.S. and Europe. That included their Fillmore stop, which was initially planned for December 2021. On Sept. 9, Jordan made sure to thank everyone for selling out the makeup show.

Gratitude was a major theme of Snail Mail’s set: gratitude for the fans, for the families and friends, and for everyone who made the Valentine tour possible, including openers Hotline TNT and Momma, whom Jordan declared are “the best bands in indie rock right now” in one of her recurring thank-yous to them.

They say actions are louder than words, and Snail Mail thanked their crowd with pure energy. Donning a baseball cap and a blazer, Jordan was charming as ever, quipping with her musicians and her audience between songs. After a joke about sacrificing a band member every night of tour, the lead singer made sure to clear up any confusion: “We only sacrifice a band member for a good Pitchfork score.” (The ritual, by the way, appears to be working: Habit, Lush, and Valentine were awarded a 7.7, an 8.7, and an 8.5, respectively.)

Live, Jordan lets her voice completely lean into the pop-punk whine that it hints at on her records. Her vocal performance, though not flawless, was powerful and enthralling. She confessed to being nervous before performing a cover of “Tonight, Tonight” by the Smashing Pumpkins, but there was not an inhibition in sight. Jordan’s guitar playing on the other hand, was basically perfect—unsurprising for an artist who began training classically at the age of 5. 

At times, the music suffered from poor mixing, and Jordan repeatedly requested her vocal and guitar levels be altered. Some of the album’s most interesting flourishes, such as the synth sample on the chorus of “Forever (Sailing),” were inaudible; whether that was an intentional choice or a sound issue wasn’t clear. 

The band didn’t sweat the technical issues, though. “It’s all gonna be fine,” Jordan assured the crowd. And by the show’s emotional culmination—the melancholy ballad “Mia,” then “Valentine,” then “Pristine”—it was. 

During the finale, a fan favorite from Lush, Snail Mail brought out the members of Hotline TNT and Momma. Unfettered joy, and a healthy dose of chaos, ensued: Band members jumped on each others’ backs and played each others’ instruments. The glee onstage overflowed into the audience, where a mild mosh pit broke out.

That happiness didn’t come out of nowhere. Snail Mail initially walked onstage to “Ladyfingers,” the romantic 1965 tune by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. The song, as well as the roses that wrapped around microphone stands, was supposedly there to pose a darkly funny contrast to Valentine’s harrowing subject matter. But the entire evening, even as she performed the most gut-wrenching songs of her career, Jordan couldn’t wipe the smile off her face.