The release of Torres’ sophomore album Sprinter earlier this year broke new ground for Mackenzie Scott, allowing the singer-songwriter to firmly establish her musical modus operandi. The cover of the record is particularly revealing. The Georgia native is presented to us with a disturbingly solemn demeanor and it is particularly pertinent that one half of her face is almost hidden in shadow, offering a visual clue to the ominously dark tone of the record and the personal and revealing nature of this new collection of songs. The incredibly positive response to this outpouring of emotions means the show tonight is a sell out and there is an eager sense of anticipation as the wonderful Deaf Institute in Manchester’s university quarter begins to fill.
Warming the crowd up in the support slot tonight is Katie Harkin. A founding member of Leeds band Sky Larkin, Katie has recently been touring with the reformed Sleater-Kinney and played with the band on The Late Show with David Letterman. This was the band’s first live performance in nine years and this incredible experience certainly appears to have paid dividends. Katie’s material is robustly presented here tonight and keenly appreciated by all those who have arrived early. Playing solo does not diminish her material and she demonstrates why she was approached by Sleater-Kinney in the first place with some highly accomplished guitar work generating a distinctive and satisfying sound, which crackles with an energy and intensity that impresses in the small confines of the venue.
Prior to the arrival of Mackenzie Scott and her band, the tone of the night is set with an ethereal guitar sample that floats portentously around the venue. This atmospheric arrangement establishes the evening’s ominous themes that will be explored tonight and when it eventually evaporates, four figures emerge through the darkness, all dressed in black, further enhancing the impression that tonight is going to be a dark, moody and melancholy affair.
Mother Earth, Father God kick-starts the evening and is one of only three songs to come from the debut record. The majority of the tracks that follow come from Sprinter and although these songs consist of a dizzying outpouring of raw emotion, this never becomes draining. A thrilling yet sombre performance of New Skin is tempered by the more animated Cowboy Guilt and the enduring impression one gets during Mackenzie’s performance tonight is actually one of enlightenment. We are given an insight into this artist’s life and her songs provide the bedrock for exploring all manner of experiences including very personal, private moments. We are certainly very privileged to be a part of this cathartic process at the Deaf Institute tonight. Thematically, Torres treads similar ground to contemporaries such as Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten and there are moments when I am reminded of this vocally, but if the thing these artists have in common is honesty then the outcome will always be unique. Torres certainly does not come across as derivative tonight despite these similarities and the mesmerising band accompanying Mackenzie on this journey are a fundamental reason for this. Guitarist Cameron Kapoor in particular contributes to some wonderfully atmospheric soundscapes which lull us all into a false state of security until we are all smacked around the side of the head as he violently punctures these soft tones.
Mackenzie Scott demonstrates tonight that she is also a very accomplished guitarist and the dramatic conclusion to the show during the epic, brave and magnificent encore November Baby provides not-so-subtle reminders of St. Vincent and Annie Clarke’s qualities. Violently embracing her guitar during the song’s dramatic conclusion, she throttles it aggressively as the sentiment of the song begins to manifest itself in her performance. Collapsing in front of the crowd as she plays, she demonstrates a genuine release of unbridled passion that is remarkable to behold. It is a moment that defines the whole performance and suggests that the small stages she has visited on this current tour may not be able to contain this spirit for much longer.
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto