Lingua Ignota @ The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA (LIVE REVIEW)

Exceedingly rare is the convergence of raw drive, immense talent, searing focus, open-hearted community, and a willingness to let one's guard down and let it all lovingly destroy you one howling, heartbreaking, drawn-out note at a time.

But, to the delight of all in attendance, such was the case on May 11, 2022 in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a room entirely captivated by the immutable and singular focus of the evening, Kristin Hayter, aka Lingua Ignota.

This show marked the penultimate date on a brief string of sold-out shows in Chicago, New York, and DC, a leg of a much larger tour structure that sees Hayter globetrotting well into the coming year with show dates both stateside and overseas, rightfully riding the crest of acclaim.

The entire room was rapt—on both sides of the stage—from the very first moments of the show when Hayter silently appeared to ceremoniously turn on the tall grasses of her stage lights herself, until its bittersweet closure—an encore performance of "Jolene" by Dolly Parton—nearly an hour and a half later.

In the pregnant gaps between songs one might assume the venue was a soundless vacuum. Every single attendee in the packed space treated the cathartic one-woman performance with almost pious reverence. Hayter's deliberate calm in those voids seemed to psychically amplify that vibe.

Though in performance she maintains a nearly pentecostal trance wherein she seems to implode emotionally while her physical body thrashes and wails, she simultaneously extends to her audience an identical quiet respect that exudes blatant, straight-faced honesty, and honors the mythically rare connection between them.

Photo: Rob Fusco

Drawing primarily from Lingua Ignota's most recent and unanimously lauded effortSINNER GET READY, the set flowed seamlessly from one song to the next—interrupted only briefly for a sincere welfare check on an audience member. Purportedly the instances of emotional and physical overwhelm during Kristin's sets are not uncommon.

Moments of heartfelt caregiving like this give a sense of the nearly maternal love Kristin sheds upon all who watch her (this is shown in equal measure outside of her music as well—in the post-set Q&A, and when meeting her fans face to face where there is seldom a dry eye to be found). Being satisfied that her people were safe and sound, the show resumed with no decrease in momentum or intensity.

Though make no mistake assuming that Hayter's output is purely adoration and care—there is wrath abundantly dripping from every word. Her body twists and contorts as she sings, a stunning marriage of clinical ecstacy and horrifying demonic possession. Her curled, shaking fingers pointing outward like one would while chanting a curse, and the screams that swell from between her angelic vibrato and mournful wails drag through the very soul of the listener, and deftly impart a scar-like tightness in the chest. 

In short: in sharing herself without reserve she will scare the hell out of you.

Hayter has also mastered the art of presence, and proves this through quiet, plain-faced vulnerability, even in the way she soberly moves her body from one side of her stage to another—her almost child-like gait and unscripted actions play on the observer's instinct to care for those lost and alone.

Hayter demonstrates inexorable boldness when she strides off stage mid-song to install herself as she sees fit in the venue itself—on the balcony stairs, in the center of the crowd, wherever she pleases. She immerses her audience in her experience by immersing herself in them, intentionally erasing the barriers of safety in distant observation. In doing so she absolutely commands attention anywhere she goes, brilliantly invoking feelings of safety and of danger simultaneously.

Yes, it is a safe space physically, but during such a brutally honest performance one is roundly reminded that distance and safety are, essentially, illusions. Kristin Hayter stands and sings among her people as a warning. An almost motherly one.

Another highlight of the evening was seeing Hayter at the absolute top of her game, peaking during the harrowing "I WHO BEND THE TALL GRASSES" during which her mournful tone was often interrupted by hellish screams, feral growls, and hissing, furious petitions for vengeance which smoothed and soared seamlessly to the ethereal tones and unsettling harmonies for which she is becoming very well known. 

The singer-songwriter is also a master of timing—she affords her movements and expressions space and time to land, to sink into the skin of her audience—all against a backdrop of glitchy footage of entranced worshippers and expansive rural scenery—a perfectly subtle texture which lends focus to the performance itself. This is a welcome departure from the callow practice of the frantic performer who attempts to dazzle and confuse with excessive production and visual distraction.

In refreshing contrast, she simplifies, she slows things down, and thus forces the observer to gaze unflinchingly at what brutally honest suffering, sheer exhaustion, and ceaseless catharsis look like from the sparsely equipped stage. By design, Hayter is the rightful focal point, and thus her sound and message are clarified, amplified, and devastatingly impactful.

There are seldom performances (or artists for that matter) which fearlessly run the gamut of emotion and leave the observer feeling inspired and thoroughly exhausted at the same time. Fortunately for the members of Hayter's makeshift congregation that night, such a performance was in full bloom. She displayed breathtaking command of her medium, giving as much of herself in the small, subtle contours of her song's lulls as she does when they crescendo and crash like a wave made of human tears.

If the devil is in the details, it is conceivable that she at some point has signed a contract in blood—and her audience, her faithful flock, her adopted family for the evening walks away from her show full-hearted, inspired, stunned, and richer for it.


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