Live Review: Margot MacDonald

WHERE: Lubber Run Amphitheater, Arlington, VA

WHEN: August 12

Margot MacDonald’s wealth of talent is enough to make the rest of us painfully aware of what we lack. Cute, charming, multi-instrumental and boasting a voice that draws instant comparisons to Sarah McLachlan, MacDonald shames us all.  At 19 MacDonald is an accomplished musician with seven Washington Area Music Awards under her belt. In August the indie singer/songwriter, whose performance credits include Wolftrap and the Kennedy Center, dazzled an audience of over 300 with a free performance at Arlington’s Lubber Run Amphitheater.

As a performer, MacDonald demonstrated a disarming mix of confidence and humility. She addressed the audience often and gave ample credit to her backing band, but avoided the tiresome banter common to those not entirely comfortable on stage. She sang with feeling and largely resisted the temptation to over-perform, though there were moments during her rendition of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” when her vocal flourishes threatened to overshadow the song’s exquisite lyrics.

MacDonald was at her most captivating when performing what she referred to as her a capella numbers. With the help of a loop pedal, the young performer built compositions one layer at a time, sampling elements of percussion and harmony until it sounded as though she had the backing of a full ensemble. Using her voice, her breath, the thud of her hand against the microphone and, in one song, glass bottles filled with water, MacDonald created rich, haunting arrangements in a process that was mesmerizing to witness.

MacDonald’s lyrics are probably her biggest weakness. There’s nothing wrong with them exactly, but they often feel banal compared to her voice and musical arrangements. Her songs treat fairly standard subject matter in a fairly standard manner, as though drawn more from her musical influences than personal experience. They’re enjoyable enough, these lyrics, but at the end of the day we’re not quite convinced by them.

In a way, MacDonald’s lukewarm lyrics give us hope, suggesting the rising star still has room to grow, making her musical journey that much more interesting. Fans can look forward to a day when the songstress finds the right space in which to inhabit her music completely.

photo by Tracy Rimdzius

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