A deranged Who (person from Whoville) on a murderous rock and roll rampage. Rock and Roll Hotel was the appropriate venue.
I heard a couple of Palehound’s songs before knowing they were opening for Torres and enjoyed them without giving too much thought. What I wasn’t expecting was that there would not be one moment in their 45-minute set where I thought, even for a second, that I didn’t want to be listening to them– an impressive feat for openers. They were beyond tight despite lead singer Ellen Kempner admitting that they were still shaking from their Tiny Desk earlier that day. It was great seeing a band so well-rehearsed, so clearly communicative with each other that no one member ever missed a beat. The music itself was this unique brand of pure witty, honest lyrics-centered indie– almost Courtney Barnett-ish in terms of having fun with words and had no regard for time signatures in a way that worked so well.
Torres and company stormed the stage in matching black mechanic jumpsuits, backed by hazy green light that made them seem other-wordly, a feeling that never left the stage even when the lights changed colors. Torres herself brought such an intensity, such a focus to these songs it was almost jarring. What’s unique about this frontwoman and the songs she writes is her grasp of the tidal-like nature of anger and apology– all of her songs, particularly “Strange Hellos”, could be said to walk this line or jump rope back and forth over it. Even at her most intense, while verging into screaming territory (which I loved), Torres would flicker a little smile directed towards the center of the room. When that smile appeared during a musical climax, the effect was that of a deranged Who on a murderous post-Christmas revenge rampage. It was awesome.
Their relatively short set covered most of the most popular songs from this year’s Sprinter (though notably lacked my favorite from the album, “The Exchange”). On the recorded version, there were more opportunities for quiet, reflective moments. Live, two synths provided a nonstop noise that never really let us settle into moments of quiet separation, except, perhaps during “Son, You Are No Island.” Her music felt like something special isn’t far away for Torres, and her unique grasp on anger made me wonder if the people watching a young Kurt Cobain play a small room knew what the next years would hold.