Review: Lizzy McAlpine’s performance in Boston exhibited her versatility as a musician and performer

Her concert on May 1 at House of Blues delivered a new rock twist on her typical soft pop style.

by Caitlin FitzMaurice | 5/8/23 2:05am

by Elaine Pu / The Dartmouth

By 6 p.m., on May 1, a line of teenagers clad in floral maxi skirts and leather jackets snaked past the drunken pre-game chaos of Fenway’s sport-themed bars, over the David Ortiz Bridge and onto the urban side-street past it. Boston’s House of Blues wouldn’t open their doors until 7 p.m., but these devoted concert-goers bided their time, happily sacrificing an hour to secure a spot on the General Admission floor to see Lizzy McAlpine. Amidst Fenway’s boisterous atmosphere, as Red Sox fans filtered into the neighboring stadium, the hum of whirling anticipation and wistful melodies echoed down Lansdowne Street, outside the stadium’s high green walls.

Twenty-three year old singer-songwriter Lizzy McAlpine has released two studio albums since her time at Berklee College of Music in Boston. The most recent — "five seconds flat"— gained praise and popularity through various social media platforms, especially on TikTok. Her success on TikTok was apparent in the crowd’s demographic at House of Blues, the eighth venue in her “The End of the Movie” tour. It was challenging to spot anyone over the age of twenty-five, with the rare exception of a stray parent-chaperone. McAlpine’s songs dissect relatable themes like young love, heartbreak and self-discovery, converting difficult emotions into something that feels cinematic to the teenage experience. In her concert, McAlpine exhibited a strong stage presence that supported the emotional authenticity of her lyricism and proved the technical accomplishments of her music. Playing her songs with a new rock twist, McAlpine gave concert-goers a rare experience by changing the style of her performance. 

The crowd pushed and stood on its tiptoes as we watched the crew construct an elaborate stage once opener Olivia Barton had finished her short but moving set of melancholy tunes that prepared our poor hearts to be further broken, in the best way, by McAlpine. Beyond the typical drum set, keyboards, guitars, etc, the crew arranged a large green velvet couch, several lamps and a wall partitioned by two pane windows and vintage movie posters. While observing this process, I readied myself for a dramatic performance that would match the intensity of McAlpine’s music. Her performance defied and surpassed my expectations. 

She began her set with “an ego thing” which sent the audience into a flurry of excited screams that were only stifled at the sound of McAlpine singing. Through its combative message and clipped phrases, “an ego thing” contrasted the second song “Over-the-Ocean Call,” which is 

is a heart wrenching ballad that McAlpine and the band performed with a rock twist. The intensity built as the bridge rose to a crescendo: “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine/ I’ll call from over the ocean.”

She continued this dynamic of altering between calm and intense through her next three songs “all my ghosts,” “firearm” and “doomsday.” The tone of the songs shifted from their recorded versions — they embodied a style more akin to rock than pop. McAlpine’s performances made space for the band to shine through with additional guitar solos and increased volume on all instruments, creating a tangible sonic atmosphere. At some points, the sheer passion and skill of the musicians almost overpowered McAlpine in volume and in focus, but I was not too bothered by this; the band was spectacular and brought a sharp edge to the singer-songwriter’s performance. The volatile mood within the music also kept the audience engaged, leaving us uncertain of what to expect from even the most familiar songs. In the span of a few seconds, McAlpine and the band could bring us from tears in response to her vulnerable vocals of all-too-relatable lyrics, to jumping and screaming those same words again and again until they lost all meaning. 

The set list featured three unreleased songs — “broken glass,” “I guess” and “drunk running” — and an exciting announcement that there is another album in the works. “broken glass,” my favorite of the three unreleased, haunted the audience with its swelling minor and slightly discordant melody and its violent, vivid lyrics. The opening line — “broken glass on the table/ pick it up, hold it to your throat” — elicited gasps from audience members. McAlpine later prefaced “drunk running” by telling us it had never been played live before, admitting “we don’t have any click [track] or anything; we’re really just rawdogging it.” Despite this preamble, McAlpine and the band delivered a cohesive and captivating first performance of the ballad.

The influence of her formal music education was present in her controlled vocals and casual confidence onstage, but it especially shone through during certain moments. Before playing “I guess,” she taught the audience a relatively simple three-line melody to sing during the song’s bridge, teaching us in a manner reminiscent of my high-school choral conductor. McAlpine’s performance of “erase me” — supported by her band and recordings of her voice singing complex harmonies — served as a microcosm for her entire body of work. It was enjoyable and easily-digestible to the audience, but not at the expense of its more musically interesting and experimental qualities. During the concert, I felt McAlpine was not the center of the show as much as she was a conduit for her music — while she possessed a tangible stage presence, she spared us many of the theatrics of a usual concert, heightening the concert as she allowed the music to speak for itself.

I particularly appreciated that, at its core, this concert was a love letter to Boston, my home city. McAlpine referenced the city’s impact on her work multiple times throughout. In her introduction for “drunk running” she reflected that “it’s crazy because so many songs that I have written have memories based in Boston. All of these songs are tied to Boston somehow.” She also mentioned how she recorded her first album not far from the venue, during her time at Berklee, and introduced another song, “called you again,” with the statement “this song is about the 7/11 on Mass Ave.” This connection the audience shared with McAlpine made the songs feel even more special, like we possessed some unique personal connection to her music, or like we played some role as a part of the surroundings that shaped her musical journey. 

Lizzy McAlpine performed a spectacular concert that both exemplified her musical aptitude and enchanted the audience. An up-and-coming artist, I see a promising future for her as she continues to build her body of work and hone her sound. McAlpine not only excels with her impressive and ever-growing discography, but in her ability to put on an amazing performance by enhancing her music with new twists in the live versions.

Rating: ★★★★★