It took all of two seconds for Beauty Pill frontman Chad Clark to accept an invitation to open for the nine-woman go-go band Be’la Dona at U Street Music Hall.
For the better part of a decade, Beauty Pill didn’t make a sound. Clark, the group’s main singer, songwriter, and producer, had a viral heart infection that took him out of commission, and almost took his life.
Beauty Pill, which Clark assembled in 1999 from a group of local post-punk artists, is equal parts experimental rock, punk, and electronic music. But Clark’s battle with cardiomyopathy sent the group on a hiatus beginning in 2007. You wouldn’t know that based on the group’s recent activity.
After Clark recovered, the band returned with the critically-acclaimed Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are in 2015, and has since been featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk, reviewed by Pitchfork, and performed at the Kennedy Center.
For Clark, however, nothing solidifies Beauty Pill’s return to the local music scene as boldly as the band’s performance on Sunday with the the all-female go-go collective Be’la Dona. When U Street Music Hall owner Will Eastman called Clark to invite his band to be the opening act, he couldn’t refuse. In fact, he wrote a long Facebook post about it:
“You have no idea how excited I am to announce this: Will Eastman invited Beauty Pill to be part of a residency of go-go bands with non-go-go bands at U St. Music Hall. We said yes. Like, are you kidding me?!? YES.”
“I only say yes to shows that are interesting, exciting, challenging, vibrant, or provide creative situations,” Clark says. “Will is on the short list of people who I’ll never say no to. He’s a great force for the city.”
For Eastman, inviting Clark and his crew was a no-brainer, as well.
“Chad is literally the first friend I met in 1995 when I moved here. Everyone I know in the DC music scene came from that friendship,” Eastman says. “There’s this creative DIY mindset here and he’s always been part of it. Chad is a smart, charming, witty guy, but has a dark humor. We’ve been talking about this for years, and I wanted their first show here to be special.”
The show is part of the “Go-Go Returns to U Street” series Eastman has put together with local bands and managers. So far, classic groups like Rare Essence, Junkyard Band, and Trouble Funk have taken the stage. Everything from the music itself to the promotional flyer, created by graphic designer “MWV,” is inspired by the post-punk era of the 1980s.
Be’la Dona frontwoman Sweet Cherie is equally excited for the performance and says that even though the group has been together for a decade, every show is a chance to show people the origin of DC music.
“I tell the girls to get it while you can because this won’t last forever,” Cherie says. “Anytime we perform we try to make a mark in history.”
Cherie played with “Godfather of Go-Go” Chuck Brown from 2000 until his passing in 2012 and started Be’la Dona as a way to honor his legacy. Performing three to four times a week, Cherie says they bring kids on stage (when the song is appropriate) to get them interested in go-go. Their setlist often includes energetic covers of popular rap songs and classic R&B cuts—Cherie won’t have the final setlist together until Saturday night.
Even though Eastman knows the genre will never be as prevalent as it was in its 1980s prime, he says the shows have been received well. “A lot of go-go artists are older now, we’re not having the fights at shows anymore—but they have the same energy.”
Clark is looking forward to the show but recognizes that he’ll be playing with go-go legends. “I’m fully expecting it to be humiliating in the best way,” he says. “Some bands see it as a competition with the other band they’re performing with. I’m excited to be destroyed.”
Despite Clark’s feelings of inadequacy, Beauty Pill is the perfect band to open for a go-go powerhouse like Be’la Dona. After all, lyrics from the band’s song “Afrikaner Barista” signal go-go’s emphatic return to U Street—“I’m here again, I’m here again, I’m here again, I’m here again.”
Be’la Dona and Beauty Pill perform at U Street Music Hall on Sunday, August 19, at 7 PM; $15; ustreetmusichall.com