There are those that say that Torres is what St Vincent could have been had she not been masseduced by her own issues and those of the world in general (or disappeared up her own arse as her detractors might argue).
Indeed there are many similarities in the songwriting techniques and performance styles used by Mackenzie Scott and Annie Clark and tonight’s audience at what was the first night of a brief UK and European tour following the release of her third album ‘Three Futures’ in September, was treated to a swathe of the latter in particular.
They included the strange stare that singles out one audience member, the knowing look, the rolling eyes, the head turn and sideways glance, the facial gymnastics, the twisted fuzzy guitar layered with reverb, and general guitar fuckery. The only thing she didn’t do was to lie down on the floor, as both have been known to, but probably because there simply wasn’t enough room for that.
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And to cap it all, two marvellous guitar solos, the first to conclude the set (‘Concrete Ganesha’, which could be a cousin of ‘Huey Newton’) and then the single-song encore (‘Strange Hellos’) that were so industrial and abstract they made Annie Clark’s solos sound like a sample from Hank Marvin in comparison.
If you haven’t seen Torres previously, the first thing that strikes you is the musical and vocal power that she produces on the stage, something that is not quite as obvious in her recorded work. That is partly down to the fact that she seems to go into a sort of enraged trance at times, on occasion screaming in tongues as if possessed.
But the major influence is a truly excellent band that is able to conjure up and (pardon the alliteration and assonance) sustain a symphony of almost sinister synth sounds, marshalled by an excellent drummer who knows exactly what the sticks, and especially the synth pads, are for.
Collectively they create what might be described as a musical zoo. In a small venue like this, they can suck you through the cage bars into a little world of their own from which you can’t escape.
And given that she’s prone to writing songs with a religious flavour (she was raised in a conservative Baptist home and tries to distance herself from it); about death and disease; and introspectively and confessionally about her own inner turmoil, she can be funky at times, she knows how to rock, how to build and sustain a climax, and on some songs, such as Sprinter, she’s downright heavy. On Strange Hellos, she produced, from somewhere in her slim frame, something that sounded like a Voice from Hell.
The set benefitted from excellent acoustics, some of the best the writer has experienced in this venue though at times the vocals were obscured by the level of the electronics and in Torres’ case the words really do matter.
The tour is to promote her latest album and most of the songs performed on the night were from that album, which was recorded in Stockport of all places at the studios of Rob Ellis (though 10cc’s Strawberry Studios was located there of course) and it helped her form a bond with the area. When she spoke softly about how she could feel the goodwill in the audience you sensed she really meant it. This was no platitude.
Continuing the Torres/St Vincent analogy, the French/US duo Paloma Gil and Lou Hayat and their band The Dove and the Wolf, are what Mackenzie Scott might be if she only wrote and sang pop ballads. Relatively speaking their sound is soporific but as with Torres, the words are deep and meaningful. If they pass this way again they are well worth making the effort to see on their own.
There was a heart-warming little cameo in which their drummer, who was making her debut foreign live performance, made a point of thanking the audience. A nice touch.