Capturing the electric anticipation in the room before McAlpine made her appearance is a challenge; suffice to say that even the drummer tuning his kit was enough to elicit hoots and hollers. But that didn’t come close to the frenzied applause that greeted McAlpine when she came onstage, her two-piece backing band launching into the uptempo groove of “an ego thing” without missing a beat.
This was our introduction to her genre-ambivalent mashup of folk, rock, and indie pop: tumbling, tom-heavy drums, atmospheric synths, strummed acoustic guitars, and McAlpine’s understated, conversational alto. A few songs later, the sexy and conflicted “firearm” was dry as a pile of tinder until it caught fire in a grunge-pop explosion. You can tell Paramore and Avril Lavigne were definitely in her heavy rotation as a teenager.
Lizzy McAlpine’s songs resonate because they’re brutally honest, savage, and nuanced. They talk about the worst kind of guys and why we fall for them anyway. That explains how she was able to get the crowd screaming like crazy with just a single chord at the beginning of “Over-the-Ocean Call” and “ceilings.” The former is powered by a rallying cry of “I’m fine, I’m fine,” which is exactly what you say when you’re anything but fine.
Meanwhile “ceilings” spotlighted another trick in McAlpine’s arsenal: the narrative reversal. The chorus of “You kiss me in your car / And it feels like the start of a movie I’ve seen before” is undermined by a devastating revelation in the outro, that “It’s not real / And you don’t exist.”
Beginning with “To The Mountain,” the mellower, folksier second half of the set was a testament to McAlpine’s gifts as a songwriter. For one, she isn’t afraid to push her voice to do interesting things, like throwing in vocal runs here and there sweet ditty “Apple Pie.” Two unreleased songs — “Emma,” a breathtaking ode to Lizzy’s sister, and encore “Come Down Soon,” which recalls Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” — might have been the concert’s best.
By the time the encores rolled around, it all started to come together for me. “Pancakes for Dinner” explained the pancake costume from earlier, and “Orange Show Speedway” illuminated McAlpine’s album title: “racing head-first towards something that’ll kill you in five seconds flat.” They’re songs that feel personal on the album, but become deeply communal in a crowd.
Of course, the last pre-encore anthem “erase me” would’ve made just as good of a set closer. After all, what more can you hope for as a performer than to have an audience literally singing your backing parts, helping you tell your story. Right before the climax, Lizzy McAlpine broke things down to the quietest they had been all night, whispering “It feels like you” before building the song back up to a scream. Almost 1,000 voices screamed along with her.