Even though she is the frontwoman of a rock band these days, Torres’ world-weary voice is a weapon of hurt, aggression and revelation.
Mackenzie Scott (aka Torres) wrapped her second-to-last song of a taut, brooding nine-song set at Baby’s All Right, and then paused for a rare moment of spoken autobiographical insight before the nightcap. The dyed-blonde rocker’s narrative-based explorations boldly touch on her life’s pains and confusions—love, religion and her quest for personal growth. Yet, the 24-year-old rarely addressed the crowd between songs, staying focused, methodical even. The sold-out show, her fourth at the Brooklyn venue, happened a mile and a half from her apartment, she informed the audience after finishing the set’s penultimate number, “The Harshest Light.”
“I’m not from here, but I consider this a hometown show. This is really fun,” said the Brooklyn-via-Nashville performer in a nervous monotone that didn’t exactly ooze fun.
Even among her “twentysomething white women who perform with stone faces” peers like Laura Marling and Angel Olsen, Scott is tough to read. She is serious to a fault whether she is thanking the crowd, introducing her bandmates or playing one of the songs off her impressive new album, Sprinter. As much as Scott gives off the vibe that she’s working through things with her music, she might also have yet to find her onstage comfort zone. At least that’s the impression she put forth on her noisy, rigid and guarded fourth spin on the Baby’s All Right stage.
Torres followed Aero Flynn, a Wisconsin trio whose self-debuted album is one of the year’s most slept-on records, like a Heartland kid’s crack at Radiohead. The album’s chief author, Josh Scott, crafted an awkward air on-stage, dancing like he was spittin’ bars not playing songs that howled at stars and offering painful, semi-coherent attempts at stage banter. Yet, the songs held up. So too did my appreciation for the record, all live bizarreness aside.
While Torres headlined the show, the crowd did not afford her the respect that such a slot normally receives. Long after Scott and her three bandmates took the stage, the audience continued chattering, creating an obnoxious, buzzing bees effect that rivaled the music. It wasn’t until Scott uttered the title phrase of “Son, You Are No Island” in a solemn manner that the crowd quieted. Perhaps in past shows, when Scott played songs from her folksier self-titled debut album as Torres, the crowd’s incessant talking would have served as a permanent distraction. Not on this night. Scott and her band—guitarist Cameron Kapoor, drummer Dominic Cipolla and bassist/keyboardist Erin Manning—struck mighty blows with its Sprinter-centric setlist.
Even though she is the frontwoman of a rock band these days, Scott’s world-weary voice as a weapon of hurt, aggression and revelation took center-stage much as it might have at her earlier, more stripped down performances at this same venue. Her delivery ranged from the pensive shouts of “I would know, I would know” on “Son, You Are No Island” to the metal growl and B-horror movie scream she unleashed on “Strange Hellos” to the tight falsetto she displayed on “A Proper Polish Welcome.” Her singing proved far more memorable than her guitar playing or her rare attempts to engage the crowd mid-song. She made said attempts with jerky, lurching motions that recalled a character’s unnatural movements in an early Nintendo game. Outside of Scott, Cipolla’s crashing cymbals on “Strange Hellos” punctuated the song’s unease, Manning’s keys on “Honey” provided the debut album single with a melancholy western twang and the band coalesced into a gorgeous post-rock crescendo on finale “November Baby.”
The crowd’s jabbering never quite ceased, even as the decibels turned higher, and the calls for an encore were faint, making it clear that while Scott considered this a hometown show she is still a visitor in many people’s eyes. That’s a shame because her songs have a lot to say, even if she hasn’t yet developed a dynamic live show around them.