Written by Live Nation Staff • Photography by Ellie Pritts • January 20, 2016
It's official: late-onset cuffing season has hit the Windy City. Youngish couples comprised a good 80% of the crowd at Torres' Chicago show at Lincoln Hall; one pair spent the set break playing grab-ass in perfect time with Deerhunter's "Never Stops." But when Mackenzie Scott and her bands of Nashville bloodletters hit the stage, even the most cuddled-up concertgoers gave each other a little room to get lost in their own heads, and seek their own private catharsis. Scott just has that effect on people.
From the eerie, Badalamenti-style synths that kicked off "Mother Earth, Father God" through the full-body spasms punctuating closer "The Harshest Light," intensities permeated nearly every second of Torres' all-too-brief Friday night set. Her music, live and on record, is disarming, with hard-fought truths ringing through every carefully chosen word.
Mining her rocky Southern Baptist upbringing and all the ain't-shit exes in her rearview, Torres' music is not for the faint of heart. Lyrically, she's unusually adept at locating the universal in the specific. We are shown Scott's history—the holy wars, the mortar-shaking breakups—and it is hers and hers alone. But when she bellows in the voice of God on "Son, You Are No Island," she's preaching to the masses.
Scott seems willing to do anything onstage to give each line its proper weight. One twitch of the neck or clench of the jaw adjusts her inflection ever so slightly, getting her closer to the truth of her words. The grunge-splattered "Heather" found her screaming for her life; while the ponderous "A Proper Polish Welcome" saw her circling around every line so that when she sang "What does language mean," it was clear the question was not meant to be answered.
She also rarely trades in ambiguities because her music's too precise and her language is too exacting. Ditto her guitar work; she never plays two notes where one will do. Her band—guitarist Cameron Kapoor, keyboardist Erin Manning, and drummer/secret weapon Dominic Cipolla—know enough to stay out of her way, subtly coloring in the negative space with cirrus-cloud keys and flutters of e-bowed guitar.
For music this cathartic—this full of messy, uncomfortable truths—there was something faintly calculating about the night's nearly note-perfect presentation. Keyboards hung like ellipses off the back of nearly every track, setting the stage for whatever came next. But that kind of premeditation sends any chance of spontaneity out the window. Beyond the maybe 45 seconds of stage banter scattered throughout the set, everything else felt scripted down to the letter, every explosion performed under close supervision.
Still, when you consider how much of herself Scott gives to this music—and how little separation she puts between Mackenzie Scott the person and and Torres the artist—that layer of protective coating isn't just understandable, it's necessary. "My name is Mackenzie Scott," she reminded us a few songs in, "but tonight, I come to you as Torres."