The first glimpse of Torres that The Echo‘s audience got on Tuesday night was that of a lithe figure in black, plugging in amps and helping set up the keyboard. The 24-year-old musician, a.k.a. Mackenzie Scott, was acting as a roadie for her band at the start of the tour in support of her sophomore album Sprinter.
When she returned to the stage for her set a few minutes later, she wore the peroxided top-knot of a warrior and was cloaked in a swooping, high-collared jacket. This was Torres: Rockstar.
But if this was a persona, the persona held true throughout the night, as Torres and her band never faltered.
Opening up with “Son, You Are No Island,” she established herself as an omnipresent voice of God. And like the voice of the Christian God in whose faith the Georgia native was raised, hers is a vengeful voice, full of riddles and contradictions, but worthy of great praise, bringing with its wrath a taste of the new and the unique.
The live show did justice to the fuzzily-furious rock songs on the album and provided proof of the musician’s true talents. Her multi-faceted vocal range really can dip that low, and those swift, uncanny chord changes are actually wrought by her nimble fingers sliding around the neck of an electric guitar like she’s casually finger-picking an acoustic. Maybe Torres is Mackenzie’s performative persona, but there was honesty in every aspect of her presentation.
During a brief break in songs, she leaned into the microphone to admit to the audience that she was very nervous. But the only tremble in her voice was one of rage when she ripped into her furious first single “Strange Hellos.” She betrayed no hint of discomfort or weakness. Her stage presence was that of a veteran rockstar. Her band too, held together in a cohesive structure rare in new touring acts. No one seemed out of place or off-kilter, even throughout the interesting structural changes of the songs.
Her strength is sophisticated songwriting. From plinky pondering to grungy rifts to soaring, semi-hopeful melodies, the music can simultaneously alienate the audience with punkish, intimate anger and invite listeners inside that world to exorcise their own demons and fears.
Her lyrics seem like those of a much older person who has been through some shit in life. Betrayals and hatred, fury and forgiveness, and failed attempts to understand others writhe inside poetic lines. With rare talent and intelligence, Torres articulates this human nature of contradiction and confusion inside a fiery feedback atmosphere of hissing drones, thrumming bloodlines, and cycling guitar licks.
Comparisons could be drawn to Patti Smith or PJ Harvey, but those wouldn’t be quite right. We could talk about the other female musicians who are also killing it recently (Courtney Barnett or Chastity Belt) but there’s no need to draw comparisons in the pale morning light of new beginnings.
Torres is uniquely herself. She has produced an achingly honest album and, at The Echo on Tuesday night, she gave us an (as contradictory as these two words are together) honest performance as well. Nothing felt false or forced.
Mackenzie Scott may have been nervous, but Torres knows exactly what she’s doing on that stage.
All images copyright © James Juarez.