Bassist Lisa Dowling‘s chops on the four strings are well respected throughout the far, adventurous reaches of indie classical, postrock and improvised music. What was most striking about her solo show last night at Spectrum was how dynamic and powerful a singer she is. With split-second timing and the help of her trusty loop pedal, she held the crowd rapt, building an eclectic set of both vocal numbers and instrumentals that drew on styles as diverse as art-rock, 90s trip-hop, acid jazz and horizontal music.
Much of the material was taken from her Kills to Kisses album Lullaby Apocalypse. While some of it brought to mind Bjork in a more somber moment, or Kate Bush (the lone artist Dowling covered during her set), Dowling has a distinctive, individual sound. There are other bassists who play loopmusic – notably Florent Ghys – but Dowling relies far less on electronics and uses her bow more. The result was as darkly hypnotic and enveloping as it was kinetic.
Throughout the set, Dowling employed all sorts of extended technique for whispery, keening harmonics, or sudden bursts or shrieks that she’d sometimes run mutedly through the pedal as a rhythmic device. As the loops circled around, she’d often manipulate the timbre or volume while adding additional harmonies or textures overhead. That intricate approach contrasted with the starkness and directness of her lowest-register melodies. Her vocals were similarly diverse, ranging from jazzy scatting, to moody and plaintive, to a full-gale wail. The one number that she shrugged off as her lone venture into dance-pop turned out to be a detour into elegant trip-hop, in the same vein as Mum or Eve Lesov‘s early work.
Dowling’s cover of the Kate Bush cult classic Babushka began as a spare, aptly Slavic folk-tinged dirge, eventually reaching towering, dramatic proportions, a platform for Dowling to air out her voice’s highest registers as she reached for the rafters. One of the strongest songs in the set was a new one, awash in tersely atmospheric, Julia Kent-ish gravitas. Reverberating deep-space echoes sat side by side with flitting, sepulchral textures. The concert came full circle at the end with a dreamily pulsing art-pop number. When there were lyrics, they tended to be clever and playful. Dowling is probably the only artist to ever use the latin pronoun “quo” twice in the same song without sounding pedantic. She’s at Cake Shop on August 1 at 10 PM; cover is $8.