By Sean Moore/ Photos By Jennie Walker
The State Theatre seemed to transform into a house of worship for Portland’s former resident, Aly Spaltro aka, Lady Lamb. As she took eager, almost running, steps onto the stage while her band played an extended intro to her new song, “Even in the Tremor.” she beamed. She equipped herself with her guitar and began singing the first verse, the crowd erupted in cheers. Last night’s hometown crowd had been patiently waiting for the return of their prodigal daughter who had not graced a Portland stage since 2016. Towards the end of the evening, Lady Lamb spoke to the crowd and mentioned that she had been dreaming of playing a headlining show at the State Theatre since she was 14 and stood in the crowd with her mom at a Wilco show. Saturday night, her dream came true and she did not falter once through her entire set. In fact, it was clear that her confidence has grown significantly since her ethereal performances in 2009. She has played as the opening act for bands including Beirut, Typhoon, The Decemberists, and Dr. Dog during her brilliant, rising career.
As her opening song ended and the first chords of “Heretic” began, the crowd seemed to lose themselves to the euphoria that words can not adequately describe. It was like witnessing a congregation of faithful believers falling under the spell of their deity, with arms floating and swaying, heads tilted towards the ceiling and voices loudly singing along to every song. This analogy became even more relevant when halfway through her set, Lady Lamb descended into the crowd, mic and tambourine in hand, and sang shoulder to shoulder with her flock of fans (including her mom!) while her band played a slowed down, piano-driven, beautiful version of “Dear Arkansas Daughter.” She soaked in the adoration of the audience, while still managing to effortlessly sing to/with them.
Chills and an ear-to-ear smile over took me when Aly began playing the aggressive first chords of “Bird Balloons,” which is a song that’s been in her catalogue since she began writing songs back in 2007, in Brunswick. This song has evolved into something of an anthem, speaking to the evolution of Lady Lamb, not just as a songwriter, but also as a performer. She used to open the song with an acapella “Up in the Rafters” before naturally blending it into “Bird Balloons” and it was a life-changing experience. Perhaps now, though, she knows it can stand well enough on its own.
Along with this song, Lady Lamb has seemed to keep another long-standing fan favorite, “Crane Your Neck” in her set list over the years, because she knows the crowd’s reaction it will receive. “You are the Apple,” seemingly molded like wet clay into a beautifully constructed vase under the guided direction of Aly, bringing it new life as she turned to the string section and shared a moment of happiness and smiles with her friend, Emily, playing cello, and for whom she wrote and dedicated the last song, aptly titled “Emily,” a beautiful ode to their friendship.
I would be foolish to speak about Lady Lamb’s performance without mentioning her uncanny ability to write such mature, deep, thoughtful songs. In fact, it was her lyrics that initially blew me away, because at the time I could not believe that such a young lady carried enough life experience to write lyrics with such introspection and observation. As she told the crowd during her introduction to “Deep Love,” one of her new songs and a grand ode to the feelings of love and gratitude, she is an observer of life happening all around her, and that although she can admit to feeling hurt and sadness, she also tends to look for small things that make her remember and cherish those good, warm feelings and it is through those feelings and observations that songs are born within her, such as “Deep Love” lyrics:
“When I walk by my neighbor and he’s on his front porch with his two scruffy dogs
And he’s cooing their names
And his wife comes out to join him and they coo those names in unison
They kiss those dirty little noses
And I watch from the sidewalk as they live inside all that love
Passing by a pure scene in somebody else’s life gives my life meaning”
Lyrics like these show the growth not only of a musician, but of a human being who has filled her life with an abundance of experiences, as she nears thirty. If last night was any indication, with the crowd dancing and singing along to every word, and in general, having somewhat of a religious experience, Aly Spaltro found her calling years ago and has grown into her role as the minister of a music revival with ease and grace while still holding onto a sense of modesty and appreciation for everyone who has followed her along this journey. It is not often that an audience is left in awe, speechless, and physically exhausted, but as the crowd left, clearly Lady Lamb’s performance had done just that, while also leaving them craving more.