New York dance-rock quartet the Rapture sold out U Street Music Hall on Sunday night, so it’s safe to say the band could have performed at a larger venue had it wished. But it was fitting that U Hall, the 18-month-old jewel of the D.C. dance music scene, was the location. Besides a soul-quaking sound system, the club has built its reputation on booking acts that are part of a new dance music underground, one that particularly appeals to rock fans and is far removed from rave culture.
The Rapture can be viewed as a crucial building block of the aesthetic that helped shape U Hall and the current dance-happy indie rock world, one in which disco beats and searing guitars are treated as equals. The band’s 2002 song “House of Jealous Lovers” was one of the first to fuse those elements in such a thrilling manner, leaving in its wake dozens of indie-dance DJ nights across the country. Maybe its success was just a matter of timing — cross-armed irony had run its course and this celebratory style was a needed escapist reaction to 9/11. Or maybe that cowbell was simply too righteous.
The song maintained all of its swagger and full-on cowbell-clanking glory when the Rapture played it halfway through Sunday night’s set. Luke Jenner’s guitar slashed through the disco beat. His jittery yelp was a call to arms, even if that call was shouting the song’s title (“House of! Jealous lovers!”) or, more simply, counting. (This is a running lyrical theme with Jenner.) At the climax, when Jenner’s guitar sliced, Harris Klahr’s bass snaked and Gabe Andruzzi provided even more cowbell, there were arms flailing, bodies shaking and serotonin rushing. It was the song everyone came to hear and the song you couldn’t help but compare to every other one.
That’s a losing battle, but not all was lost. “Echoes,” the title track of the same 2003 album that featured “Jealous Lovers,” also had a spiky energy thanks to Jenner’s guitar and voice. On “How Deep Is Your Love,” a song from “In the Grace of Your Love,” the first new Rapture album in five years, the band got joyfully lost in an extended groove — Andruzzi let loose with saxophone blasts and Jenner crowdsurfed for a few moments.
But much of the new material was lacking in urgency, and that seemed to be by design. Guitar was more of a garnish and the beats had less snap. “Never Die Again” and “Sail Away” were straightforward disco cuts that sounded more benign than anything. It’s too refined to be revelatory, but the Rapture have earned the right be tenured elder statesmen of a genre they helped create.