Reaching To Rock

“Lower your expectations,” the recurring joke started by Lady Lamb the Beekeeper went. But as the night progressed, those words seemed more sage than humorous. While I had zero expectations for Torres and Lady Lamb the Beekeeper other than Torres’ absolutely spellbinding live version of “Come To Terms” on Pitchfork TV, having kept my expectations essentially null proved to have been a double edge.

Supporting Torres’ first Canadian show was Brunswick, Maine’s Aly Spaltro, A.K.A. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. The night began under strange circumstances as The Media Club remained unlit except for the bar near the entrance. The final remnants of sunlight, mixed with street lights and cars driving by, filtered through the large windows. With zero venue ambiance, it really emphasized that we were just a group of people standing around in a room, as if the power had gone out at a basement party that hadn’t even started.

So standing around in nearly pure darkness was kind of awkward, but I didn’t clue in until the lights came on, and a lone Spaltro finally started playing her guitar, that maybe that was part of the performance; I could see how sensory deprivation could be intended to augment her a cappella opener “Up the Rafters”. But the loud industrial-grade refrigerator hum of the overhead speakers made me once again question the “intentional” A/V dynamic. To turn a negative into a positive though, at least the crackling speakers complemented Lamb’s booming, not exactly pristine voice.

Also not exactly pristine was her guitar-playing. It’s a blurry (read: subjective) line where sudden time changes and musical bursts work (such as in math rock), but Lady Lamb’s songs never quite felt whole to me – more like loosely threaded patchworks of ideas. Thus, Lady Lamb’s “rock-outs” felt a bit laboured, out of place and forced. Numerous times, I was reminded of my own beginner’s attempts to play Guitar Hero where the heart is there, but my body movements tell me, “No”. Only “Hair To the Ferris Wheel” briefly changed my mind about Lamb’s such moments. Her songs also had ways of really clinging onto persistence, their dénouements occurring far later than they maybe should have. I certainly can’t take anything away from her guitar-skills otherwise though. When tender currents took her, she could weave a rich thread with her nimble finger-picking.

While accustomed to writing and playing by herself (Spaltro spent four of her formative years slogging it out in the back room of the DVD store where she worked), Lady Lamb promised that next time she visits Vancouver, she’ll be playing with a full band. I hate to insinuate that she needs a band, but it would certainly change her game; maybe I wouldn’t perceive her struggle to awkwardly bridge her disparate musical ideas anymore.

Already with band though was Torres, real name Mackenzie Scott. Although only some of the Nashville resident/Macon, Georgia native’s songs were solo, her bassist Clark Casada and second guitarist Mark Sloan still might as well have done Mother Nature a solid by sitting out this tour and reducing their carbon footprints. Most of her set could have been condensed to herself and drummer Chris DePorter, as even during some of her quieter moments, Casada and Sloan were difficult to hear. In those moments though, Sloan proved his worth with pedal-assisted slide accents. But the band as a whole still struggled to rock out, their outbursts eyebrow-raisingly curt.

At the very least, Torres’ obsessives must have been delighted as she played every song from her eponymous ten-song debut except “November Baby” which she bumped in favour of a new solo number currently entitled “A Proper Polish Welcome”.

The greatest delight for me though was Torres’ closing song “Waterfall”. It glistened with frozen placidity yet radiated soothing warmth. Was that the cozy sensation that purportedly overcomes someone before freezing to death? Obviously, the live drums felt less distant than on record, but the song’s sustained pulse and Torres’ airy vocals still evoked a sense of drift.

Even though Torres and Lady Lamb the Beekeeper left me with too much to desire, they displayed enough positive qualities to explain to me how they’ve developed such dedicated followings: their music is at least latent with potential, and they were affable. As an obsessive of many acts myself, I know that fandom can drive one to overlook details that others may perceive as flaws, even if one acknowledges, accepts or even relishes those “flaws.” So for Torres and Lady Lamb fans, this show was probably all they needed. But for the rest of us, Torres and Lady Lamb will have to keep chasing that golden rock-out rainbow. Luckily for them, it doesn’t seem to be too far away.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu