I walk into The Social ecstatic and entirely intimidated at the idea of shooting my first show at a reputable Orlando venue. Until this moment, I’ve mostly taken photos of my quirky coworkers, desk tchotchkes, and other riveting elements of office life—with a show or two at Will’s Pub. Yet here I am, camera in tow, about to see and photograph one of my favorite local bands for the first time.
Despite my anticipation to see them, Hundred Waters wasn’t the first thing to take my breath away that evening. It was Kelsey Lu, the opening act. Her voice stopped me in my tracks before I had made it five feet past the door, her voice piercing the air in astounding clarity and immersive depth. She truly doesn’t sound like anyone else.
Lu’s tiny frame is bundled in layers of colorful textured cloth she carries with unearthly grace, her cello leaning on her shoulder like a comfortable accessory. Her lyrics strike me to the core. It’s the sincere emotion in her voice; the sheer beauty of her every movement and sound as she flows from high and sharp to low and guttural.
Kelsey Lu sings and speaks with a taunting vulnerability, yet something about her screams, this girl is a badass. She wields a loop pedal used to synchronize her vocals and cello riffs, bending and molding the sound at her will, manipulating hypnotic perfection.
But my real connection to Kelsey Lu developed after the show. While researching I found out she was raised in a Jehovah’s Witness family who valued creativity (her father was an artist and musician) but also shielded her from a lot of music and pop culture growing up. Little known fact, so was I.
In fact, her story practically mirrors mine, minus the fact that I don’t have a shred of her musical ability. My mother was always very creative and encouraged my sister and I to pursue music and art in all of its forms—art camps, piano lessons, crafting, and reading of all sorts. It was this love for creativity and learning that made me question why I was constrained to such a narrow perception of the world in the first place. I was confused why I was encouraged to explore art while simultaneously being held back from living my life, seeing the world, pursuing relationships, and being open to ideas beyond the Bible.
So I left at 18. And so did Lu, who admits in multiple interviews that she was a late bloomer who didn’t get to unpack her teenage emotional baggage until later in life. Yeah, same girl.
To find out the mesmerizing voice that immersed me in such melancholy lyrics as, “I’m lying if I said I was okay, ‘cause I’m not. I’m angry, and I’m sad,” came from someone who had been so deeply hurt in the same ways as I had growing up was absolutely gut wrenching and completely inspiring for me.
This girl is my new fucking idol.
After my breath was sufficiently taken away (and a few more PBRs were thrown back in anticipation) Hundred Waters took the stage, silhouetted in rays of lights. Nicole is truly angelic yet so down to earth. She’s effortlessly comfortable on stage, even stopping mid-song to acknowledge the distracting traffic outside. They’re all in-tune with the audience and know what we’re paying attention to.
I love seeing a band grow over the years. Hundred Waters was once a cool local group that quickly evolved to a true wunderkind, even featured in a Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad and signed to Skrillex’s label. But they’re hardly self-righteous, giving a shout out to their parents in the audience and humbly recalling, “We went to every show we’ve ever been to here at The Social.”
The ethereal balloons pulsate in time with the music, creating an atmospheric stage experience unlike anything I’ve seen at this venue. Their mystique is palpable as Tryon sets the songs’ foundation with electronic undercurrents, Zach textures it with the kick of his drums, and Nicole blankets the tunes with her silken voice.
Hundred Waters is haunting yet sweet, vibrant yet dark, and they combine a soothing aura with the perfect touch of halloween spirit on this incredible October night.
Kelsey Lu & Hundred Waters Live Review w/ Hundred Waters by Ariel Rivera.