September 19, 2018 at Great Scott
Despite being pretty exhausted on the Wednesday night of this concert, I had high hopes for Mothers’ performance. My interest in seeing where Mothers would take their live shows, given the difference in their first album versus their more recent, pivotal sophomore release Render Another Ugly Method– plus the promise of a very reasonably priced tall boy of Narragansett from Great Scott– helped me curb my initially indifferent mood. I was right to power through– this wasn’t a concert to miss. To see Mothers live is to see a band that is evolving into something stronger and more composed as the years go by.
Opener Lala Lala, a product of the Chicago DIY scene, started their set without any pomp. There’s no announcement of who they were until later; they just started playing as people began to float over to the stage and away from the bar. I was initially skeptical that their performance would just be another boring white indie band– i.e. mostly men, too much reverb, and “minimalist” bass and guitar lines to mask a lack of any true technical skill, shake and serve– but this ended up being considerably less painful than my first impressions.
Frontwoman and singer-songwriter Lillie West’s voice definitely did start off a bit shaky, attempting some subpar, droning harmonization with the band’s bassist, Emily Kempf. They juggled electronic drums, reverb, and a lot of looping, particularly in between songs as a sort of filler. It definitely was not a well-oiled machine: their attempts at smoothly transitioning via live looping are often cut abruptly short, but when they used this technique in their actual songs, it was probably one of my favorite parts of the performance. I am a sucker for a good live loop, so maybe this is just personal preference. In the second half of their set, they started playing a lot of songs from their upcoming album, to be released September 28, and I actually started to get into it. West showed her vocal range a lot more on the new songs, which makes me feel more forgiving towards the rocky start to their set– especially once she mentioned that this is the first time that the band has performed a lot of these songs live. Their newer music feels more inspired, and there’s a lot more of the musical complexity I initially found lacking.
Mothers started playing with exactly the same lack of pomp that Lala Lala displayed (or rather, didn’t display). I actually didn’t even notice they’d walked on stage until they started playing from where I was sitting over at the bar, which is inconveniently placed just so it’s impossible to see the stage. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t been waiting attentively to get a spot, though, since the venue wasn’t near to sold out– I could easily shoulder myself into a spot a few rows back from the front. Frontwoman Kristine Leschper wore all white and stood off to the right side of the stage, and her voice was initially quiet and unassuming as she plays their first song of the night, ‘“IT IS A PLEASURE TO BE HERE”’– but she was still the clear focal point, set aside from everyone else. The rest of her bandmates look at her occasionally, a clear form of deferring to her. They played a couple more songs from their new album, Render Another Ugly Method, before playing their most-known song ‘It Hurts Until It Doesn’t’ to a bit more audience engagement.
There’s a lot more polish to Mothers in comparison to their opener. Leschper and her bandmates felt remarkably in sync, even among the various different genres and styles that their discography continues to evolve to cover. Throughout the show, which lasted about an hour, Mothers touched on styles from experimental post-punk to more sparse singer-songwriter and back again. While they sourced a significant amount of their setlist from their new album, they also played a couple of notedly older songs, including ‘No Crying in Baseball,’ a song that they released before their first album, When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired, and ‘Stairwell Song,’ a song Leschper released back in 2013.
They closed out the night with ‘PINK,’ one of the singles from their latest album, Leschper’s voice gaining its greatest strength of the night on one of their most upbeat songs, ending their set with a frenzied bassline and intense drumming, descending into noise. I leave having had a great night– one that was full of promise from Lala Lala, and one that was impressively dynamic, personal, and captivating from Mothers.