Something strange happens when traveling new paths, when getting a little lost. There is a fervor, a little fear, and plenty of excitement. This sensation, this blush of discovery, so often pervades the experience of new music.
And so it was for me with Angie McMahon’s music. I remember the first time I played Salt, well-past the sun’s setting but not yet in the black of night, her dusky powerhouse voice soaring out my car’s windows. I felt a little something break inside.
That’s how you know.
Stream Salt by Angie McMahon on Spotify:
On record, the songs verge on raggedness, raw less like a cut and more like a burnt dream, her voice alternating between a whisper and an explosion, her electric guitar shimmering between a storm-beaten surf and a gentle lull. Angie plays with dynamics, with tension, and she uses her voice broadly in a moment, narrowly in another.
Angie opened for Hozier at The Anthem on Nov. 18, just her and a crimson guitar, a little handmade sign on the stage behind her. A venue full of 6,000 people, well-crowded long before she came to the stage. She shimmered, shirt sparkling, eyes shadowed with glitter, cheeks colored by smiles.
The music possesses a sincerity, an earnestness well-matched by her actual onstage self. She embodies the concept of sincerity on the stage, taking a moment to acknowledge the natives of the land to begin the show, reflecting both a deep understanding of her own heritage (Australia) and ours (America).
And then throughout the show, she engaged the audience honestly, telling little stories, eliciting quiet laughter that rippled into something loud.
Before this show, I would have asserted that Angie’s music is best absorbed alone, in a quiet place, in a quiet moment.
I was wrong. This music begs to have you feel it quake your bones.
The songs’ themes address being human in the current age, but especially what it is to be a woman. Like at least a few of her Australian counterparts, Angie’s lyrics are a kind of direct poetry, saying exactly what needs saying. On songs like “I Am a Woman,” she expresses the tension of being a woman viewed as little more than a game to men. She addresses the near-perpetual loss of a sense of safety, showing that the simple quality of feeling safe is a privilege.
Angie showed off her cavernous voice for DC, and the audience soaked in its beauty. Songs like “Slow Mover” (unf, what a good song) that explode into a series of little conflagrations — never massive, but always powerful — and “Keeping Time,” with its acknowledgments of the cracks developed over time and its lauding of self-discipline (and desire to forego it at times).
Or maybe even the little beauties of “Pasta,” the best song about spaghetti ever written, its concessions to busyness, malaise, and the pain of mundanity. Or the heart-wrenching little deaths of “Play the Game,” its pain on the edge of tangible, its selfish love a thing almost beyond expression, comprehension. Angie has a true gift for expression, both with her voice and her guitar.
She high-steps around the mic, twirls in the stage’s shadows, and altogether provides voice to complex emotions and lives lived.
Please, by all that is good and holy in this world, make the time to listen to her songs. And if you have the opportunity to see her sing them in person, take it.
Let her voice crash over you, baptize you in beauty.
Here are a few more photos from the show at The Anthem on Nov. 18, courtesy and copyright of Matt Ruppert.