"Don't allow the suspension of disbelief to be shattered by the exceptionally long time I'm taking to tune my guitar," said Mackenzie Scott about midway through her performance Thursday at Great Scott. It was mainly intended as an offhand joke to break the tension of an extended delay between songs, but it inadvertently contained a key to understanding what Scott, who performs as Torres, is all about. She wasn't just singing songs; she was trying to create and sustain a mood.
It would have been tough to miss regardless, given that her nearly 10-minute-long opener, "Son, You Are No Island," practically breathed itself into existence with a single note she plucked on two strings of her electric guitar as the drums softly but firmly thumped forward. Then unease set in as one of those notes slipped a fret down while the other remained firm, two tones no longer in synch.
Most of the rest of the songs followed suit, with her finger-picked electric coated with a reverb that fuzzed out the outlines, giving "New Skin," "A Proper Polish Welcome," and "Honey" the simmer of a hazy twilight and "The Harshest Light" the mirror-ball slowness of a goth-rustic prom theme. Then there was Scott's voice — or rather voices, since she sang with two of them: one a withdrawn murmur, the other a low, piercing keen that opened from the back of her throat with a heavy quaver, and occasionally cracked into a guttural moan.
But Scott didn't present as shy. The lonely guitar hacks at the start of "Strange Hellos" gave way to a full-band chug so hard-hitting that Scott aimed the neck of her instrument, guitar-god-style, at the crowd with a toothy, open-mouthed grin when it ended. And when the chatter at the back of the room began to overwhelm the delicate ringing of "November Baby," a smiling but clearly perturbed Scott simply added volume and distortion before her band joined her around four minutes in, and she luxuriated in its power until a screech of feedback crumpled the set to a close.
With a low, clear guitar rumble, a deep, quavery alto, and brief songs inspired by sources as disparate as Flannery O'Connor and Louis C.K., Pasture Dog opened with appealingly dry and thoughtful indie rock. Ancient Ocean followed, with John Bohannon alone on stage coaxing slow-motion sounds out of his echoed and looped guitar for a patience-trying 30 minutes.
Marc Hirsh can be reached at email@example.com.