On Jan. 17, music fans from all over the Bloomington-area gathered eagerly at the Bishop, awaiting Palehound and TORRES.
Up first, Palehound’s front woman, Ellen Kempner, stood proudly on the stage with her guitar and righteous Adidas sweatpants. Almost like a calming feeling, the sweatpants grounded the band. Artists are no different from you or I, no lesser no better, exactly the effect Kempner and the band aimed for.
She started the Palehound set off with “Drooler”; the sweet ballad set the discourse for the night of ballads interrupted by up-beat (at times chaotic) tunes. Crowd-favorite “Molly,” the title track off their most recent album Dry Food, has a lot of momentum built into its structure, the bass jumps around the track making it almost irresistible for the listener to stand still, and the drums breakdown into a Latin style beat. When the band finished the track the energy reverberated off the audience to the same tune of Kempner’s guitar: abundant and clear.
As Palehound continued their set, Kempner shared a story about the last time they were in Bloomington (this past November). She explained how they bunked at their mother’s friend Gary’s house and each member got their own room. The punchline of her story was she stayed in Gary’s daughter’s room, she had moved out awhile ago, but had left up a framed photo of her high school lover on the ceiling (with a rose attached none the less).
Proceeding the story, the band played my favorite track of theirs; “Cinnamon” is a groove guitar-heavy song with a wicked halftime part in the middle. Kempner then moved to another ballad, packed with even more emotion than the others. She played “Dixie”: a clean guitar song mainly comprised of arpeggios. Kempner invites the audience into her personal life as she repeats “To stare and gag into a dixie cup….to stare and gag into a dixie…CUP.” Coughing loudly on the last “cup”, Kempner emphasizes to the audience the studio version was not a mistake, but intentional. The cough not only adds character to the song, but also color to the show. Palehoud finished off the night with a roaring “Seekonk” off Dry Food.
Raw. Encompassing. Honest. Words don’t describe or do justice for TORRES’ show Sunday night, but there’s at least a stab at it. The four musicians calmly stepped onto the stage; clad in black jumpsuits and black combat boots void of all but the slightest touch of personality in guitarist Cameron’s Black Flag patch and drummer Dominic’s oriental looking patch. The universal appearance coupled with the lack of a personal self attitude led the unsuspecting fan to believe a St. Vincent-esque show, robotic and prearranged, was about to unfold.
Quiet the opposite occurred, Mackenzie Scott operated with spastic, mechanically coordinated movements that remained to the root completely human. Her smile, innocent and pure before she beckoned the crowd to please stay and meet with her after because she wanted to say hello, let all in attendance know she was the human behind the lyrics. Scott’s often dead eye thousand-yard stare into the abyss of the room contradicted her smile, but exemplified themes of TORRES recent album Sprinter perfectly. The personal distance in songs like “Son, You Are No Island” juxtaposed to the openness of “New Skin”.
Scott wasn’t the only musician making TORRES despite her triumphant proclamation “Tonight I come to you for the first time as TORRES” right before “Harshest Light” at the end of the set. Yes, it was her lyrics and guitar riffs predominately, but all the members augmented the other’s sound creating the embodying atmosphere of the night. At times it was difficult to discern who exactly played which overtones or what piece of equipment built each distortion. The atmosphere sounded calculated down to the rattle of the snare drum generated from the power of Scott’s amp.
“Mother Earth, Father God” opened the set with Scott’s voice bellowing alone into the room, setting a solemn tone, silencing the crowd. TORRES moved straight into a different rendition of “New Skin” with flourishes of Scott’s guitar backed by Dominic’s combined electronic and actual kit beats. Synth/ keyboard/ bass all played by keyboardist Erin’s fingers created a surreal atmosphere when paired with Cameron’s distorted guitar stylings provided by the pedal board with almost a dozen pedals at his feet and the four or five electronic outputs on his propped up guitar case.
The constant mix between despairing expressive lyrical tracks and energetic angrier songs kept the crowd silenced almost the entire show, aside from applause. The contrast again manifested themes of internal conflict on the album, but made the strife concrete through Scott’s actual persona. Upon ending with “Harshest Light” the lines “it was all in my mind” somehow rang fleetingly tangible as soon as the music stopped.