I wasn't sure what to expect from Scout Niblett at Barboza last night, and not just because I'd never seen her in concert before.
Though her records, several of which feature engineering from Steve Albini, possess the kind of you-are-there quality that translates well to the stage, she comes across as a mercurial personality. This is partly due to to her angst-ridden lyrics, but also because she's been obscuring her appearance over the years with wigs and construction jackets, leading me to believe that she likes to keep some distance, at least metaphorically, between herself and her audience (or that she craves some degree of anonymity), but I had no cause for concern: she put on a great show. She said next to nothing, except I wouldn't consider that a failing; more like a characteristic. I came for the music, and the music was good.
More photographs below (please note that her t-shirt was actually green).
Drummer Dave Jacober (his t-shirt read: "I Have Too Much Stress to Chill")
Jacober's drumming was so loud, yet minimalist that I was reminded of Young Marble Giants. At other times, Scout's approach to the blues brought to mind Led Zeppelin, but without all those Middle Eastern/Middle Earth trimmings. And those are two reference points I would never expect to associate with one artist, but I swear she was channeling both Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. While she was playing, I tried to think of blues women who cover some of the same territory, but I couldn't come up with anyone, other than Janis Joplin, and that's a stretch—maybe Mr. Airplane Man, but Scout is mostly her own woman, though her fluid, emotive wail continues to remind me of Sinéad O'Connor to the extent that I was kind of hoping she'd throw an O'Connor cover into the mix, but no dice.
With Ron Livingston doppelgänger Miguel Caturani on guitar
Halfway through the set, the talking in the back of the room started to become really loud. Scout didn't say a thing, but a look of irritation flashed across her face. I could feel her pain, and when I took in the scene, I noticed several people looking back as if to say, "Shut up, you guys." Instead, of playing faster, Scout slowed things down and cranked up the volume. Whether the gadflies in the back hit the road or took a hint, I couldn't say, but the buzz of voices diminished, and I was able to enjoy the rest of the set in peace. It was around this point that Scout asked, "Any questions?," which got a laugh. The woman in front of me yelled, "Why are you such a bad-ass man?" (or words to that effect). Scout responded the way most women would in a similar situation: she looked both confused and flattered. First, she laughed. Then she laughed again. There's nothing particularly "manly" about Scout, so it was a curious choice of words.
If I had any say in the matter, I wish she had saved "Gun" for later in the set. It's a show-stopper on It's Up to Emma, and that was also the case in the live context—it was the third song she played—but she may have wanted to stave off predictability. After wrapping things up, she returned for a one-song encore, and then she was gone (by contrast, John Grant played a four-song encore at Barboza in June). I'm sorry to say that she didn't perform her Janet Jackson or TLC covers, but you can't win them all, and she did her originals full justice.