The first time I saw Lady Lamb the Beekeeper live was two years ago at Consequence of Sound’s 2011 Record Store Day Afterparty. Somehow, despite working for the people hosting the event, my name wasn’t on the guest list. As I tried to convince the doorwoman to let us in, Aly Spaltro, the petite songwriter behind the Lady Lamb moniker, walked by with her guitar strapped to her back. Recognizing her, I asked if she had space on her list and would help us out. The then-22-year-old smiled shyly, shrugged, and said sure.
A few hours later, in front of maybe 30 people in the small basement of Fontana’s, Spaltro stood on stage by herself, that guitar now slung over her shoulder. She didn’t play it at first, though, opening with the a cappella number “Up in the Rafters” from her demo CD Mammoth Swoon. The chatter in the room cut out immediately – even the shuffling of feet ceased. You hear the phrase “you could hear a pin drop” a lot, but I swear to God if someone had dropped a pin, every pair of eyes in the place would’ve been shooting daggers. Her voice captured people’s attention like a maelstrom captures ships: there’s just no escaping.
Two years later, Lady Lamb was in Boston to play the first of three record release shows. This time, the sold-out venue was much bigger, with T.T. the Bear’s capacity hovering around 300. Even though “Up In the Rafters” didn’t make it onto her studio debut Ripely Pine, it played the same role it did in Fontana’s basement. As Spaltro took the stage in complete darkness, a fan loudly shushed the crowd. Those who didn’t respect his wishes were quickly quieted when she opened her pipes and started singing.
Although this was her first time playing behind her debut, she is far from a nascent performer. Spaltro has taken her time honing her craft, playing these songs for years at small shows along the East Coast. Her vocals are rounder and fuller than ever when she pushes them out from her small frame. She’s got boatloads of confidence, demonstrated before the set even started as she went about organizing her backing band and animatedly giving directions to the lighting guy (who smiled as he walked away from her, seemingly impressed and/or amused by the young lady’s command of her show).
Those lights remained black for the entire opening number, and when they turned up on the first notes of “Bird Balloons”, they revealed Spaltro in all her mature glory. Yes, her glass were off and her eyes closed for the majority of the set, but that well-earned confidence kept her engaged with the crowd as she shredded her instrument and delivered unwavering vocals. Her guitar and banjo work is even tighter liver, and she displays all the wonderfully raw energies of her recorded songs – or, more accurately, perhaps it’s the other way around. These songs kick live, which make sense considering that’s how they’ve subsisted for so many years prior to Ripely Pine.
Spaltro has always said she’d left space in some of these for more instruments, and the horns (provided by openers Cuddle Magic), strings, drums and keys (the latter two courtesy of second openers, Xenia Rubinos) elevated the numbers as helium does balloons: naturally. Even though she’s stated she’ll be going back to solo touring in the future, even Spaltro noted the added pleasure of her backing band. “That was the most fun I’ve had doing that song ever,” she remarked after “Crane Your Neck. “You can dance to it now! That’s a positive song; you should be able to dance to it.”
One of the most special guests joining Lady Lamb on stage to create that danceable sound was her own dad. “He flew up all the way from Texas,” she said as she introduced him, “and this is the first time we’ve played together on stage.” Before they jumped into “Aubergine”, the elder Spaltro wiped his eyes, and the romantic in me wants to be believe he was brushing away a tear. As he left his daughter on stage for her solo turn, he kissed her on the head, and for the first time that night, Lady Lamb’s voice caught in her throat.
If there was one problem with the venue — it was the massive sound-bleed coming from the venue underneath the club, The Middle East Downstairs. Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck was throwing his own record release part for CZARFACE, his project with 7L & Esoteric. The bass coming from below shook through your feet and nearly ruined the quieter moments of Lady Lamb’s magic. Though she jokingly said she’d tried to match “Rafters” to the beat so local press would write “Lady Lamb sang a long to the beat of the Middle East bass drum”, and started a singalong when the guitars to White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” came up between songs, the bleed was horrendous, and a shame. It was clearly a distraction to Spaltro, who paused every so often as she waited for it to die down.
“This is so fitting with the first words of this song,” she remarked as she started the banjo plucks of “Regarding Ascending the Stairs” over the thumping bass. Those first words? “I cannot think of that song with this music on.” Besides that moment, she kept a lively repartee with her fans. “I chose the venues for these record release shows because they feel like my home venues,” she said. It was true that it felt like a hometown gig, even though she’s from Maine and lives in Brooklyn. The crowd sang along for non-Ripely Pine tracks like “Between Two Trees” (“That song is so old,” she commented with a smile, “but I kinda want to record it for the next album. But I’m getting ahead of myself.”), as well as songs like closer “The Nothing Part II”.
Lady Lamb has come a long way, and on her own terms, at that. Over the years, she’s built a fan-base that couldn’t be happier to see her mature so successfully. It played out beautifully, from her father’s presence to the fact that the vinyl pressings of her album managed to be delivered just in time for her to sell and sign them at the show. She’s been around for years, but with barrels of confidence and a vivid performance, her set proved she’s just getting started.
Up in the Rafters
Hair to the Ferris Wheel
Between Two Trees
Regarding Ascending the Stairs
You Are the Apple
Crane Your Neck
The Nothing Part II
Photography by Ben Kaye