“Sometimes you have to face your demons.”
Following the lengthiest bit of banter she offered to a condensed and sweaty Stone Fox crowd all night, Mackenzie Scott (better known by her stage name TORRES) launched into “Strange Hellos”, the opening track of her breakthrough sophomore effort, the daringly confessional Sprinter. The demons she was referring to, this writer can only infer, were circling about the room, taunting her throughout the first half of an ultimately triumphant homecoming performance.
It was only after the fiery catharsis of “Strange Hellos” that Scott seemed to snap back to reality, acknowledging that each song making up her (regrettably short) setlist was about someone or something that had provoked her into writing it in the first place.
This is the story that follows the music of TORRES. Nothing comes easily, especially not without the lingering stain of regret. Especially not without the empowerment that results from transmogrifying these past follies into something bigger and essential to turning these regrets into distant memories. Memories worth laughing about over a few drinks as opposed to crying about over several.
There’s a new narrative that has popped up in recent weeks when the music press at large approaches Sprinter, and rightfully so, much focus having been cast upon the indubitable themes of religion that course throughout the album. The title track (beefed up in live performance to a level that ties into TORRES’ underlying grunge influences, while still allowing for a debate about what exactly constitutes “grunge” in 2015) refers to a pastor being defrocked over his human temptation being channeled through pornography, a simulation of witnessing people in purportedly intimate moments.
In many ways, witnessing a TORRES set is an experience not heavily separated from Scott’s highly personal biographical anecdote, only the guilt-rendering vulgarity is implied and withdrawn. It’s obvious that many of these songs are coming from the part of the human brain that most would rather ignore and deny, in fear that release (rather than tasteful repression) might reveal a wicked nature.
Scott proved in her performance that these fears are moot, or at the very least incomprehensible in their status as being taboo. Set opener “Son, You Are No Island” recounts a bitter fragmentation of unity, a breakup song that Scott purports to have spawned from the concept of taking on the voice of God himself in damning the persecuted subject. Realistically, I can imagine presenting both this song and its context all these years later to the Catholic priest who figured intensely into my upbringing, but that man is no longer with us.
Mortality, in conjunction with turbulent faith and forceful resentment, factor into the music of TORRES. While she skipped over the contemplative Sprinter closer “The Exchange” (in which she repeats the sentiment that she is “afraid to watch [her] heroes age”) in her performance, she did perform to the edge (with the help of her expert backing band, consisting of rubber-armed drummer Dominic Cipolla, effortlessly harmonizing multi-instrumentalist Erin Manning and energy reciprocating guitarist Cameron Kapoor) of her life in a front a crowd that consisted significantly of old friends and family.
Much like Natalie Prass returning to an adoring High Watt crowd just last week, Scott and her impressively tight three-piece backing band had a distinct home field advantage throughout the night. And while it would be easy for me to write off the lackadaisical crowd as inattentive or distant, there’s a part of me that has by now realized that a silent room is not necessarily a distracted room. Judging by the several instances in which I’ve been unwillingly subjected to punchless singer-songwriter nights around town, I took the lack of outward reaction toward TORRES as a sign of respect and awe more than one of indifference.
There were no label executives in the room splitting their time between having a hard-on for the “next big thing” and trying to figure out how they can harness crushed dreams into material upon to which to lay the foundation of new condo buildings. There were no radio jockeys looking for the newest artist to coax into performing a “secret show” at City Winery. There were no major music publications leaching the energy from the room in hopes of latching themselves onto her upward trajectory.
No, Mackenzie Scott brought a show for Nashville and Nashville only, refuting the digital hype and the expectations that come with it, serving her highest purpose and her highest purpose alone.
Words by Kevin Brown /// Photos by Mick Leonardi
Additional photography from this show can be found courtesy of Jill Sanders at Deep Field Images.