Empress Of + Salt Cathedral @ Bar le Ritz PDB – 25th February 2019

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Let’s be honest – this winter has been terrible if you go to gigs.  If it’s not snowing a ton, its freezing rain, or its just plain freezing.  Tonight, it’s the latter.  And yet, Montrealers are unfazed. Parcels have sold out Theatre Fairmount, Jacob Banks pulled in a massive crowd at Theatre Corona, and up here in the intimate confines of Bar Le Ritz, a good crowd have shown up for the return of Empress Of after around 3½ years away.

Salt Cathedral are charged with warming everyone up for the evening.  A New York-based duo comprised of singer Juliana Ronderos and guitarist Nicolas Losada (who hail from Colombia originally), their brand of summery calypso-reggaeton has a few moving around the room, but not enough for Juliana’s liking: “Do you guys get Reggaeton up here?  You seem kinda shy! ”  The band themselves are full of energy, bouncing around the stage regardless.  

Lorely Rodriguez, aka Empress Of, arrives on stage to a very latino beat to continue that carnival vibe.  She adopts a simple stage setup, with only 2 opposing sets of keyboards, facing her touring band-mate in the same way as Lucius or Psychic Twin… wait, her band-mate IS Psychic Twin (aka Erin Fein)!!!  My brain almost explodes at this realization, given how much I love Psychic Twin.  I find out from Erin afterwards that they met through a mutual friend at a Psychic Twin show, and Lorely asked her to tour with her afterwards.  How amazing is that?!  I already know I am going to love this show before a note has even been played.

The beat to which they arrive on stage soon merges into Trust Me Baby from recent sophomore record Us, and, sung half in Spanish, half in English, it sounds awesome to hear the different languages of the crowd duelling with each other as they sing along.  Lorely is keen to avoid awkward gaps and silences between songs, as most of the set merges the songs together seamlessly to create the feeling of a musical journey as opposed to a collection of individual songs.  In Dreams sees Lorely detach herself from her spot behind the keys to patrol the front of the stage as the moody vibe continues, before the massive beats of Everything To Me raise the energy of the room, and sees the energy of crowd and Lorely rise exponentially as both start to bounce.

Even Lorely comments on the weather: “thank you for coming out, it’s so freaking cold!  We were just sat backstage in these little things,” nodding to her and Erin’s matching outfits, consisting of a fairly short skirt and crop top.  Ouch.  Love For Me truly showcases the vocal talents on display, as the breakdown sees Lorely and Erin harmonize their vocals angelically before the vocals suddenly distort and merge into the thunderous percussion of Just The Same.  Water Water sounds almost industrial in comparison, and the closest thing Empress Of have to a club anthem before the multiple thumping beats suddenly slim down to the single beat intro of I Don’t Even Smoke Weed, and again sees Lorely roam the stage between the verses and that distinctive keyboard riff she plays.

When I’m With Him is a ballad-y moment that lets everyone catch their breath, but soon explodes into the sleazy beats of Realize You, and then Woman Is A Word and I’ve Got Love in quick succession (at least, it feels quick since the songs run into each other; I’m not sure how much of the songs were actually trimmed down to accomplish this!).  How Do You Do It, arguably the standout track from her acclaimed 2015 Me debut record, closes the main set in resounding fashion, and has the whole room dancing.

After the briefest of pauses, Lorely proclaims “I saved all my slow songs for the encore!”  Again is an atmospheric space-age number with bass so deep that I can feel my hairline wobble, before she closes the hour-long show for good with a brief cover of the Blood Orange track Best To You on which she guested, and which really propelled her into the alternative mainstream (if there is such a thing).  It’s done a little differently though, sung entirely in the style of the opening bars of the song (the part where she sings “Call it all for nothing / But I’d rather be nothing to you“).  It’s a little tantalizing (maybe even verging on cruel!), as you wait for that epic bass line and beat to kick in, but it never does.  Imagine Bohemian Rhapsody being sung entirely in the style of the opening “Is this the real life?  Is this just fantasy?” part, and you can understand what I mean.  Still, it’s a nice touch, a nice tribute to her big break, and wraps up an epic return to Montreal for Empress Of.

Setlist

Trust Me Baby

In Dreams

Everything To Me

Love For Me

Just The Same

All For Nothing

Water Water

I Don’t Even Smoke Weed

When I’m With Him

Realize You

Woman Is A Word

I’ve Got Love

How Do You Do It

Encore

Again

Best To You (Blood Orange cover)

Review – Simon Williams
Photos – Jean-Michel Lacombe

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