Flash Review: Lucrecia Dalt

By Phillipe Roberts

Friday, June 30, 2023

Bandwagon fandom is a beautiful thing. Sure, you miss out on the fleeting, youthful thrill of obnoxiously lecturing someone outside the venue, cigarette in hand, about how you saw the now fully-risen star first. But there’s something relaxingly adult about catching an artist as they’re hitting their peak instead—letting someone else do the crate digging to free yourself and waiting until they’ve made their accessible-but-still-excellent breakthrough album to check them out.

So it was for me and Lucrecia Dalt, the Colombian experimental artist who I hadn’t heard but had heard of until her own breakthrough work, !Ay¡ punched through the blogs and into my ears. Tonight at National Sawdust, I banter with the hardcore fans like I haven’t just ripped through her earlier discography in the last week. The lights go down and I breathe a sigh of relief.

Before pivoting to music, Dalt was a geotechnical engineer. It’s a fact that never escapes mention in writings on her work, and for good reason: her compositions, heavy with reverb, feel like expeditions into the deepest of caves, places where the world becomes a distant memory, where the wrong shadow in the right place can trigger fantastical hallucinations. Joined live by drummer Alex Lázaro, she plays this up to its fullest extent as the duo engage in a kind of sonic cave painting, meeting in the middle from opposite approaches. Lázaro, smiling widely behind a bug-eyed pair of sunglasses, pounds out gently grooving tropical on his unique kit, an incredibly wide and tall cage of snares, rototom, and cymbals placed at unnerving heights and angles. Watching him jump and stretch around the absurd architecture of the kit as he crafts thrilling, seemingly improvised intros, and finds creative pockets in the noise for tom rolls or cymbal flourishes, is one of the show’s key pleasures. Dalt meets his wild acrobatics with statuesque calm, splashing colorful walls of synthesized sound around the room out from behind a stack of keyboards. Only occasionally does she step out and around it, and even then, she stalks the stage in slow, measured steps, pausing to stare into the inky darkness above our heads as her voice guides us through it like a gothic siren.

"Before pivoting to music, Dalt was a geotechnical engineer...her compositions, heavy with reverb, feel like expeditions into the deepest of caves, places where the world becomes a distant memory, where the wrong shadow in the right place can trigger fantastical hallucinations."

The contrast between their two energies is hypnotic and seductive. They freely use effects to create a two-person dub soundsystem, playing with your perception of time and space by stretching and squeezing the sounds into a dazzling kaleidoscope that churns around Lázaro’s ceaseless, hypnotic beats. Few pauses are taken between songs; when Dalt takes a second to address the crowd, it feels as if we’re being shaken awake from a collective dream.

!Ay¡’s more intensely rhythmic focus and its formal preoccupation with more traditional Latin popular songwriting is no doubt the secret ingredient to the album’s wider success, and I had hoped that it’s more lighthearted tone might translate into a bit of a more festive live experience; maybe we’d see if the experimental crowd can move their hips. The answer was a resounding no, and though it’s tempting to chalk this up to learned behavior—you can only go to so many shows tagged “experimental” featuring a person blasting noise from behind a folding table before the bones in your legs start to lock in place—in this case, I get it. There’s something eerie and overwhelming at work at a Lucrecia Dalt show, an occult, shadowy something that keeps you looking over your shoulder. Like a cave diver, your eyes get used to the darkness, but not enough for you to put your guard down and move freely. Indeed, when Dalt returns to the stage for a brief encore, she’s smirking with a glass of white wine in her hand, looking pleased as hell that she’s put us so effectively under her spell. We’re clapping loudly, but there’s a hint of nervousness running through the crowd: what will she hit us with next? Even if there’s never been a better time to hop on the bandwagon, Lucrecia Dalt keeps you on your toes.