Live Review: Lady Lamb at Barboza 4/29/15

Live Reviews
05/08/2015
Jacob Webb
photos by Eric Tra (view set)

Although Aly Spaltro's musical beginnings as Lady Lamb lie in the basement of a video rental store in Maine, she's got sights on something bigger. Granted, it doesn't take much to move onto a bigger ambition than playing to yourself at 4 a.m., but Spaltro's aiming for every heart in the room, and the rooms are getting bigger. Since the release of her excellent sophomore album, After, Spaltro has embarked on her first proper full-band tour behind the LP, and when she played her first Seattle gig since a 2013 solo show at the Crocodile, Barboza was treated to the sharpest, affecting, and fully realized version of Spaltro's singular musical vision to date.

After isn't a massive stylistic leap from Lady Lamb's debut LP, 2013's Ripely Pine – in fact, some of the songs on the album are from the same writing period – but since Ripely Pine was such a unique, diverse debut, After's shared sonic blueprint is hardly a problem. In a live setting, the albums' one-two punch makes for a punchy, cohesive set. The winding fury of "Bird Balloons" gives way to the mournful "Sunday Shoes just as seamlessly as the sprawling "You Are the Apple" drops into the punchy "Billions of Eyes" without missing a beat. A significant factor in the fluidity of Lady Lamb's performance was her bandmates, drummer Derek Gierhan and bassist/keyboardist TJ Metcalfe. The trio were locked in with each other's rhythm the entire night, dynamically stopping and shifting on every musical section change as Spaltro's songs required, which, compared to many of her contemporaries' song structures, is no easy feat. Part of what makes Lady Lamb's songwriting so compelling is its unpredictability. Spaltro isn't afraid to write a long song – most of her compositions are longer five minutes – which means she's going to take as many verses, bridges, and choruses as it takes to fit in all of her conversational observations and animalistic imagery. And since she's taking the time the fit in that many chords and changes, she also goes ahead and throws in as many instruments as it takes.

However, basic tour economic costs prevent Spaltro (and most other musicians) from bringing strings or horns on tour with her, but she more than makes due in the trio format she's been touring with. In their recorded versions, most of Spaltro's songs contain more instrumentation than three people could muster, but the live versions of the songs are rearranged to trade some of the originals' depth for force, doubling down on the volume of Spaltro's guitar and Gierhan's drumming. By and large, it's a winning formula. Obviously, "Aubergine" isn't going to sound quite as vibrant without its horn line in the second verse and bridge and "The Nothing Part II" won't be as massive without a choir of backing vocals, but by doubling down on their volume and occasionally borderline-punkish delivery, those songs still hit the very full Barboza as hard as they do on record. But as impressive as those loud moments were, the solo songs were ultimately the highlights of the evening. Not just because Spaltro knows her way around a solo performance at this point, but also because her writing style is so well-suited for that format.

Although Spaltro herself wasn't particularly talkative during the show (aside from a sincere message of gratitude at the end and explaining the reasoning for a sock on her vocal mic, she didn't say much), her songs present her experiences in a way that excels at both drawing the listener in and making them decode her lyrics to find the meaning. Spaltro has plenty of immediately memorable lines in her catalog – "my hair grew long so I fucking cut it/I picked the pieces up and put it in your locket" and "I know already how much TV will fail to comfort me in your absence" were just two of the ones sung back to her by more than a few audience members – and although their detailed descriptions are nothing if not direct, they're only part of a larger, often five minute-plus puzzle to sort through. That last sentence is Lady Lamb in a nutshell. There's plenty of songwriters whose ability to translate every last detail of their personal life with visceral effect – Sharon Van Etten, Torres, and Tobias Jesso Jr. all come to mind – but Lady Lamb's songwriting is more like cloudy mirror: it's certainly her reflection in there, but the features have to be focused on to distinguish. Finishing up her biggest tour to date and preparing to face large audiences for the first time – she'll be back in the region for MusicfestNW – Lady Lamb is sharper than ever. Her favorite high might be the feeling of barely making the train, but as more and more people catch onto her music and she continues to expand her songwriting pallet, Aly Spaltro might be finding new joy in sharing her music with her biggest audiences to date. That is, if they can decode the former Beekeeper.

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