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Margot MacDonald at the Black Cat

Written By | Jan 28, 2014

WASHINGTON, January 28, 2014 – When Margot MacDonald stepped onto the performance space in the Black Cat’s backstage area—the local stop on the record-release tour highlighting her new album “Canvas”—the contradictions that exist were present and just about bursting at the seams. Her appearance here was literally bursting with vibrant, youthful energy. Yet at the same time she also seemed maturely confident in her abilities, a paradox that doesn’t necessarily make sense in a traditional mold. 

By mature and confident, we’re not trying to convey a sense of high seriousness. Instead, what MacDonald radiated to her Black Cat audience was a sense of knowing joyfulness that became immediately evident from the moment she appeared on stage and began to hum a few bars from her opening song. Clearly, this is a rising pop-star/singer/songwriter with a very clear vision of her path forward.

There’s a lot Margot MacDonald has accomplished in her 22 years of residence on the planet. By the time they turn 22, most people begun to figure out what they want to do with their lives, and possess only a relative notion as to how their professional life is likely to take shape. The fact that MacDonald differs radically from the average speaks volumes about her singular dedication to her craft.

Discussing MacDonald’s age, particularly with regard to her artistic path is key to understanding both the artist and her music, but not necessarily in the way one might think. She’s someone who is still experimenting with what her finished sound is going to be—a key characteristic of a young performer at the beginning of her career.

But that’s not to say her sense of experimentation is all over the place as it often is with young songwriters, soloists, or bands. Instead, she seems to have already established the primary territory of her musical parameters. Her experimentation at this point involves adjusting the finer points of a sound she already seems to have largely defined.

The main reason for this is Margot MacDonald has already through the standard, awkward growing stages most young musicians seem condemned to endure. She’s already settled into a sound that feels comfortable. Her output is wide-ranging, yet is also grounded by a core of consistency—a consistency that emanates from highly refined vocal skills; skills that serve to keep everything together even at those times when a given song feels like it might go spinning out of control.

It’s also quite evident that at her core, MacDonald, as a songwriter, possesses an endless supply of ideas, something that seems to have been organic from the very start. This is evidenced by both her music and the fabric of her sound on “Canvas,” the ultimate focus of this show. Taken as a whole, her sound has a distinctive, strongly driven piano/indie pop feel to it.

To this core, she then contributes additional interesting touches, such as her recurring, harmonizing vocals, which take on the format and form of various friends during her live show as in her appearance here.

Each of her songs is built with layers and textures that continue to grow and transform. This may sound simple in theory. But it’s hard to successfully pull of this kind of subtle complexity in practice. Even so, she and her band pull this musical magic off effortlessly, as exemplified during their recent Black Cat show.

And let’s not forget that band. One of the smartest things MacDonald has done is to surround herself with a group of talented, professional musicians actually capable of relating to and executing the evolving vision of her sound. This ensemble of thoroughly professional musicians has individually and collectively worked with various bands and the DC music scene for quite some time. Consequently, they instinctively know how to punctuate key moments in Margot’s live set.

Ultimately, however, Margot MacDonald remains the central attraction—a fact that would likely remain constant even if she were only a vocal ingredient in someone else’s band. Her voice simply commands that kind of attention when she’s on the stage. It’s a confident, booming source of energy that serves as a gravitational pull for the rest of her music. Without Margot at the center, the music would lose much of its purpose and urgency.

Even at 22, Margot MacDonald has already been performing for a considerable amount of time, so it seems entirely appropriate that she would inherently evolve a performance situation where she’s the focal point. Clearly, a lot of thought and effort has gone into both her music and her live show.

But there’s one part of this construction she never has to think about. The music is an organic extension of Margot MacDonald and who she is. Everything else branches out from this. It’s what the audience at the Black Cat responded to when she performed here. And it seems to be something that will always come naturally to her as her career continues to grow and evolve in the months and years to come.

Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer. He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years. Currently he lives in Vienna, VA. He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.