Lingua Ignota, Live at Union Transfer
December 15, 2022
Concert review by Bob Turri
We arrived a half hour early or so on a rainy, dreary Thursday night in Philadelphia. Lingua Ignota, the enigmatic singer/multi-instrumentalist was scheduled to play two sets. In some ways a perfectly fitting scenario as to what we were about to experience. Lingua Ignota’s most recent album, Sinner Get Ready is a stunner of an album. Using central Pennsylvania as a backdrop, it evokes an emotional sound with religious overtones and conflicting emotions. I first read about Lingua Ignota in Prog Magazine. The reviewer mentioned some of the Pennsylvania references, wondering why an artist like this would choose to live there, but also ended the review by saying you should at least listen to the album once. This piqued my interest, and I ordered the album directly from her website. Her voice is somewhat Nico-esque but the emotional delivery and range is what hooked me. There is almost a reverent quality to her sound steeped in dark mysticism.
Union Transfer was the Spaghetti Warehouse prior to being turned into one of Philadelphia’s hippest musical nightspots. Because of the cavernous nature of the venue, the sound quality has been questionable in the past, but on this night, there was only a piano in the center of the stage with one spotlight on it. An email was sent on the day of the show letting attendees know the show would start on time. Not much after 8:30 the lights went dim, my eyes focused on the stage waiting for Lingua Ignota’s entrance. Much to my surprise a lone light shaped like a candlestick with a beaming almost fluorescent light at the top appeared in the middle of the floor and there was Lingua Ignota breaking into her first song, sung a cappella, which sounded like an African-American spiritual.
After finishing she quietly moved through the crowd and entered the stage, sat at her piano and started playing. The piano strings had been treated with metal objects and chains which gave a somewhat dissonant percussive sound as she struck the keys. She played a number of songs, mostly new, as far as I could tell, and went from one song to the other. The audience, mostly made of art school graduates or attendees, with some older folks thrown in to boot, was mostly transfixed throughout the first set and barely clapped, yelled or said anything. Lingua Ignota was completely silent except for her singing and piano playing. She ended the first set with a magnificent version of the Gavin Bryar song ìJesusí Blood Never Failed Me Yetî, and left the stage.
After a short break the second set began. This was different using taped music, piano, additional vocals, and possibly synthesizers, holding court utilizing the candle stick beaming lights, adjusting them now and again, and singing her head off, although her voice sounded like it might need a rest as she has been on tour for a while. There is a somewhat perplexing quality to her stage show and visuals. The projection screen throughout the second set consisted of Christian evangelical gatherings, spontaneous baptisms, people I’m guessing speaking in tongues, and evangelical preachers in a constant loop.
Her lyrics dive into religious topics and icons such as Jesus Christ, Satan, blood, the body, and the sacraments. It almost felt at times like being at a church service, but it was difficult to discern what the sermon was. Anti-Christian, pro-spirituality, or just a commentary on how religion can either guide or misguide people. It’s difficult to say but the way the music, singing and lyrics are presented, in such an emotional heartfelt way its hard not to get caught up in this.
In the same email that told everyone to get to the show on time it mentioned that Lingua Ignota was considering dropping her stage moniker and using her real name, Kristin Hayter. I think this would be a good idea as the Lingua Ignota persona may have reached a limit and it would be very interesting to see what this dynamic performer and singer might do next. The second set ended with an encore of the Dolly Parton song, “Jolene.” Again, her beautiful voice, expressed in many different octaves was captivating. The crowd during the end of the second set started to wake up, catcalls, whistles, and yelps began to be heard, and Ms. Hayter thanked the Philly contingent and said this time around was much better than the last visit. It’s tough to shake off our demons, but if there is one artist worth watching, you might want to tune in.