I regard Sprinter as one of the strongest albums of 2015, and Torres' performance was the highlight of my first Primavera Festival in Barcelona in June. Performed solo at the end of three days of immersion in music, its poignancy stirred up deep emotions and actually reduced me to tears. Last night in Manchester was to prove different, not least because she brought three fellow musicians. Whereas the support act, Katie Harkin, seemed to be diminished by the absence of her band Sky Larkin, Mackenzie Scott is a powerful communicator in her own right. Sprinter was recorded in Dorset with input from English PJ Harvey collaborator Rob Ellis and Adrian Utley of Portishead. Understandably, the touring band uses different personnel, and I felt drummer Dominic Cipolla could at times have been more sensitive in accompanying the vocals, though the balance improved after the first few songs.The guitar player Cameron Kapoor stayed in the background, however, and Erin Manning's backing vocals subtly filled out the harmonies.
The tone was serious: in the only intervention from a hushed audience after a song was aborted to retune her guitar, someone suggested she might tell a joke . Mackenzie replied quietly: 'I don't do jokes', and even the lighting was subdued. Talk was limited to the essentials: thanking the audience for coming, introducing the band, and noting she'd performed in Manchester once before. Yet, this reticence was far from incongruous: humour would have shattered the atmosphere. There may be awkward silences on stage, but Torres opens up through deep, nuanced lyrics, singing poignantly of pain, love and religion. In Harshest Light, the culmination of the hour long main set, she refers to The Old Testament name for God, Yahweh; whilst in the title track, my other highlight, she tells of a pastor sent down for pornography. The Exchange was one of two songs from the new album omitted last night: telling of the loss of an adopted child, it's perhaps too harrowing to perform regularly, as a powerful portrayal of loneliness and isolation. It was a pity too that Ferris Wheel, about an reciprocated crush was skipped, though Pitchfork unjustifiably considers it to be long-winded.
The pacing was masterly: Torres gave them room to breathe, taking risks to accommodate her expression. Whereas the Primavera solo set was a concentrated, spontaneous outpouring of emotion, this could feel like more calculated, conscious art: I was even occasionally reminded of St Vincent's sheer theatrical intensity. Consequence of Sound talks of 'the fire she breathes when she sings'. Time in church choirs as a child must have aided the development of a powerful, sonorous voice. Torres sounds as comfortable with the grungy, angry rock of Strange Hellos as on the more languid opener Mother Earth, Father God from her self titled début. This was written in 2012 whilst she was still a student at a Christian university in Nashville. Whilst well received, it has taken a second strong release for this artist to gain the wider attention she warrants.
Torres shows her independent spirit in opening and closing with songs from her lesser known album, boldly concluding with the minimal, introverted November Baby. As a performer, she's the antithesis of bland or routine, though there's a sense of work in progress, giving rise to excitement about her potential. Like fellow Brooklyn singer Sharon Van Etten, she's one of the most emotionally draining acts I've experienced. The deep rooted sadness, insecurity, and vulnerability makes for a transformational work of art. At times, unrestrained fury spills over, but her brief smiles to the audience give hope that expressing suffering is proving cathartic. At heart, Torres is a dichotomy between sadness and anger, and as introversion gives way to outward expression, I'm fascinated to see which direction this amazingly gifted singer takes in future.
- Mother Earth, Father God
- New Skin
- Cowboy Guilt
- Proper Polish Welcome
- Son, You Are No Island
- Strange Hellos
- The Harshest Light
- November Baby (encore)