Monday, January 9, 2023

Review: Lingua Ignota, Live

On December 16th, 2022, I saw Lingua Ignota live at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn. 

In a word: Prophetic. Transcendent. Messianic. Rapturous. Revelatory. Apocalyptic. The most affecting performance I've ever witnessed, and one of the most intense emotional experiences of my life. 

The setup was simple: a stage at the front of a large warehouse music hall. She had a modified piano, a laptop connected to gargantuan speakers, and a microphone. In the background, a video looped, showing cut-together and blurred footage of marshland, red smoke, and middle-Americana carpeted-floor church services. The stage lights weren't always on, but when they were, they shone red. She also had five tall, thin vertical lights, freestanding, which she moved around regularly. They glowed gold; the affect was that of either candlelight or angelic divine illumination.

She began the show by walking down into the audience, the house lights off. She went to the center of the audience, stood on a box, and turned on a single of her golden lamps. Then, she sang "O Death," the Appalachian folk song. When she reached the final line, she turned off her light and sang to all of us in total darkness. 

She could have ended the show then and there, one song, and I would've been happy. Simply sublime.

The rest of show was split into two parts: the first third, she sang and played her piano. The rest of the show, she turned on a backing track from her laptop, an overwhelming wall of sound, and sang with just the microphone.

She was like a prophet. A figure who understands fundamental mysteries of the universe in a way that the rest of us do not. She was a saint. The word I wanted to address her by was "master," or "teacher." I was overwhelmed with intensely personal respect and devotion. I wanted to cry out to her, up there on her stage, to weep at her feet and beg. If she had told us to give up everything and come follow her, I would have done it without regrets.

And yet—she remained extremely human. Twice, once on the piano and once with the backing track, she stopped her show right in the middle because someone in the audience needed help. She was very open about it being a show; she joked about how easy it was to stop and start because it was just one button on her laptop. She ducked behind her piano between songs to drink coconut water. It was unabashedly all production and show. 

But that only made it more powerful. Both times, I wondered how she would recapture the mood and atmosphere after such a stark interruption, and both times she had us all in her thrall in seconds. To know that she had conjured up sound and wisdom not as a transient experience dependent on external forces, like a seance or a drug, but as something she simply controlled—witchcraft. Like calling down lightning on a whim. 

I was in tears for about half the show. I started crying during "FRAGRANT IS MY MANY-FLOWER'D CROWN" ("For I have learned / All men are brothers / And brothers / Only love each other") and more or less didn't stop. It was catharsis on a level I've never felt, and sometimes doubt I will ever feel again. I felt raw, like I was laid bare for judgement day, sins and all.

The show worked its way through a compilation of songs from SINNER GET READY, CALIGULA, and ALL BITCHES DIE. Her backing track was based on the albums, but modified.

Twice during "MANY HANDS," I was struck with fear and panic, gasping and weeping. I know all of the words to "MANY HANDS" ("The Lord spat and held me by my neck / I would die for you I would die for you He wept"). It is the song of hers that is most important to me. Seeing her perform it live in front of me was simply apocalyptic. I mouthed the words along like a prayer, and she took those words and threw them back at me with holy fire and brimstone. I couldn't look away. I quaked in my boots and sobbed with terror.

Multiple time throughout the show, she took hold of one of her lights and descended into the audience, singing all the while. We parted before her, a crowd of the faithful ready for her message. She walked through our midst like an angel or a ghost, gracing us with her presence while silently demanding everything we had. To see her part the masses singing, holding aloft the only light in the hall, was simply unearthly.

Later, she sang "FAITHFUL SERVANT FRIEND OF CHRIST," illuminated only by two of her golden lamps. Hearing her, silhouetted against heaven's light, call out those words ("Faithful servant and / Friend of Christ / Most glorious and / Holy light") was perhaps the closest I've ever felt to God. It was penitence, a burning declaration of faith, one that might yet signal redemption. I wept for joy. 

In the end, though, she was gentle with us. She returned to her piano for the last song, a stripped-back cover of "Jolene." It felt like aftercare, softer reminder that this was just a show and she was just an artist. 

Maybe. While I understand on an intellectual level what elements of the show I saw and heard, on a spiritual and emotional level I remain in utter confounded awe. Mabe she simply did her research on revivalism and American faith music. Maybe she simply constructed one of the most meaningful performances I've ever seen. Maybe she simply is a virtuoso of unparalleled talent.

But maybe not. Down in my bones, it is an unquestioned truth that she speaks with divine authority, that she sees something the rest of us only dream of. In my heart, there is no question that she is blessed by God and the Devil alike.

After the show, I was in a daze. I wanted to say a million things, to scream and cry and laugh, but I didn't. I mostly just stood silently. I was on the edge of tears on the walk out of the hall, and cried again on the way home. 

I was raw for days afterwards. On reflection, weeks later, thinking about the show still makes me cry, but mostly I feel gratitude. I will likely never see her again, but she commanded such revelation that I cannot feel anything but a burning passion, a profound thankfulness for showing me some glimpse of the fiery heavens. God's mystery is great and terrible, but she is his prophet.