Photography by Anna Erickson
Industrial beats blared through the speakers as Mackenzie Scott, aka Torres, walked to the front of the stage at The Barboza. Dressed in all black with a cold stare, she lit a bit of sage and waved it around her microphone as if to ward off evil spirits. The beats slowly morphed into the insidious “Son, You Are No Island” from her new album, Sprinter. As her low bellows turned to vicious howls, her sage-burning raised the question: Is she trying to protect herself or protect everyone else from her?
The tone hardly deviated from here. Torres is not a cordial host. By her own admission, she doesn’t do stage banter, but manages to say thank you between songs. The mostly silent pauses between songs made her already stark music feel heavier. Her white hair and pale skin glowed under the blue lights of the basement venue. It made an ideal setting for Torres’ music: cryptic, with just the right amount of menace.
Jumping into “New Skin” was a relief after the claustrophobic “Son, You Are No Island”. Though still an emotionally draining song, the rising chorus and anthemic guitar lines made it easier to unclench the jaw and relax. It’s apparent in moments like these that Torres has complete control over the mood of the room, taking everyone through highs and lows. Her slower numbers especially show off this skill.
Songs like “A Proper Polish Welcome” aren’t so much ballads as they are concentrated levity. They carry all the impact of her distortion-heavy tracks, but feel condensed down to the essentials. There’s less to hide behind, making her confessions feel even more jarring and damning. That said, Torres has one of the most affecting screams in rock music, and she utilized it to her full ability on the ferocious “Strange Hellos”.
Torres’ set made for a surprising contrast to opener Aero Flynn, whose bright blend of guitar loops and synthesizers felt uplifting and hypnotic. Frontman Josh Scott even ended their set excitedly, declaring a mantra of “fuck art, let’s dance!” The billing only heightened the experience with each band. The old cliche of “no darkness without light” felt applicable here, though that doesn’t mean Torres was without her moments of light breaking through.
With closer “November Baby” from her self-titled debut, Scott indulged in whimsical fingerpicking and her most tender vocal performance of the night. During an instrumental breakdown, she walked to the edge of the stage with a pained look on her face. But when she turned around back to the band, she broke a smile; her own tiny redemption.
Son, You Are No Island
A Proper Polish Welcome
The Harshest Light