There was no need for an introduction, not for 24-year-old Mackenzie Scott.
Nothing but thickened silence and anticipation from the gathering audience filled the Doug Fir Lounge as a small, wavering flame from a lit match illuminated Scott’s face. In that moment, a flame of her own came to life beneath her composed eyes. Not one word was spoken. Instead, the mystery created by her small gesture amplified the presence of this young woman. As her fingers sought the beginning chords of “Son, You Are No Island,” the air pulsed with her repressed rage.
From the very beginning, fire became the focus of her show. In this case, the fire was one of anger and the vulnerability resulting from expressing such emotion, inlaid within a series of confessions from her sophomore album, Sprinter. As emotional as her performance was, Scott avoided adding too much—as if to keep the audience from feeling overwhelmed in the translation from recorded material to live performance.
Despite her initial entrance, Scott shied away from theatrics throughout the show. Pyrotechnics and fancy footwork were replaced with simple lighting and minimal changes of equipment. Stage conversation was kept short, delightfully awkward though it was. Often, abrupt movements launched her to take the stage as her own during the most intense moments of each song. Strategically, a moment of silence following the end of each song left enough breathing room to offset the heavy atmosphere, if only to prepare the audience for her next attack.
In this simplicity, her performance focused largely on the lyrical strength of her work. Accentuated by the tribal techniques heard in the backing percussion and Scott’s moody vocals, songs such as “A Proper Polish Welcome” and her closer “Ferris Wheel” punctuated the air with temper but refused to overwhelm on stage. Strangely intimate, Scott’s voice broke from fury at the height of “Strange Hellos” as she roared, “What’s mine isn’t really yours / but I hope you find what you’re looking for” before jolting backward into a fit of passion. Burning with bitter admission, her eyes revealed another side to the nature of one of her most recent hits—watch below.
As a performer, Scott doesn’t merely sing. She feels, and on stage, she feels everything. Yet, Scott still has room to improve.
There’s an intimidating fear that rides alongside the complexity of a young woman’s rage. Lyrically, Scott excelled in capturing this; however, in time and with experience, she’ll prove to be a reckoning force if she pushes past her own self-consciousness during live performances. Although subtle, there was an awkward undertone in stepping away from the safety of her mic during the most climatic moments of “New Skin” and “Sprinter.” Locking eyes with her touring bandmates, she could never quite engage herself completely in playing what she felt during the instrumental breakdowns. Instead, she looked as if she were too focused on acting a certain way.
The highlight of the night, however, was a song from her first, self-titled album—listen below. “Honey, while you were ashing in your coffee / I was thinking about telling you what you’ve done to me,” Scott howled. An older song matures with experience and this was certainly no exception. The poison which manifests in Mackenzie Scott’s current work gave this particular song a more menacing edge. Primarily serving as evidence of Scott’s maturity and fluidity as a performer in the few years between her debut and Sprinter, “Honey” revealed the opportunity for one of this year’s SXSW breakout stars to successfully improve.
Standing center stage while remaining unsettlingly composed at the end of her performance, Mackenzie Scott bottled her rage into a small, wavering flame. Much like sharing a secret, the intimacy in revealing physical pain through such a simple yet effective concert reduced Scott’s fire to match the expression she sought during her entrance: Rage can be contained, but you must first feel in order to reach that point.