Liz Cooper’s “Hot Sass” tour not only marks her first headlining tour since COVID-19, but also a transformational moment in her career. The tour and accompanying album, “Hot Sass,” which was released on Sept. 3, is her first solo album; until “Hot Sass,” Cooper performed under the band name Liz Cooper & The Stampede. Cooper also departs sonically from her previous folk-rock releases. In place of her old sound, Cooper comes into her own with a grittier, soft-rock sound.
With a new sound and a new name in town, Liz Cooper stopped by Allston’s Brighton Music Hall on Oct. 2. Cooper was joined by New Madrid (a band, ironically, not from New Madrid, Mo., but instead hailing from Athens, Ga.), who opened with a psychedelic-esque set. New Madrid’s sound was wonderfully crafted using a mishmash of distortion and loop pedals, and a particular highlight of the band’s set was the members’ occasional three-part harmonies. The band’s stage presence also can’t go unmentioned; singer Phil McGill’s showmanship was energizing and captivating, and the band sufficiently raised the crowd’s energy prior to Cooper’s set.
Cooper, joined by drummer Ryan Usher, bassist Joe Bisirri and keyboard player Chase Johnson, soon took to the stage. The band opened with “Slice of Life,” an upbeat number with a heavily distorted guitar solo from Cooper. Cooper played with a charming almost too-cool-to-care attitude, and it was impossible not to feel like she was a seasoned rock star. “Heart Shaped Candy,” a dreamy, reverb-heavy song punctuated by staccato drums followed. If there is one thing that sets Cooper apart from other artists, it is her distinct voice. There isn’t one succinct way to describe Cooper’s vocals; her voice is simultaneously buttery yet has a certain grit to it. She almost sounds like a beautifully falsetto-ed Karen Dalton. However, any comparison to another singer falls short — you have to listen for yourself (and you won’t regret it). Cooper’s impressive guitar-shredding abilities are also noteworthy for a lead singer; in lieu of a separate lead guitarist, Cooper was the sole guitarist, shunning the usual rhythm guitar role that singers take on.
“Je T’aime,” a high-energy song with an insanely infectious repeating bass riff, started out with just bass and drums, while Cooper fiddled with pedals on the floor to create a delightful distorted sound. The fact that this song has less than 10,000 listens on Spotify is appalling, given how fun and infectious “Je T’aime” is. The band then jumped into “Motorcycle,” one of the highlights of the “Hot Sass” album.
Johnson’s synth playing took (figuratively) center stage on “Feeling Good,” a much more mellow number than the other tracks featured on “Hot Sass.” The chorus of the song is enchanting; as Cooper croons, “I’m not sure I’m feeling good no more,” her rising and falling vocals are nearly hypnotic.
The peak of the night was “Lucky Charm,” a nearly 10 minute-long song that opened with instrumentals that built in intensity. Cooper didn’t just play the song, but gave an incredible performance, building up the audience’s energy with her super-cool attitude. When one audience member loudly declared (using language that is a bit crass for the Daily) that she had cool shoes, without missing a beat, Cooper replied “Thank you” before delving back into the song. Her ability to work off the crowd’s energy throughout the set was one of Cooper’s many strong suits.
Cooper also featured an esoteric cover of Julee Cruise’s “Falling” from “Twin Peaks” (1990–91) during her set, after which she praised all things Lynchian, including coffee, cigarettes and transcendental meditation, a noted love of David Lynch’s. Towards the end of the set, Cooper played two softer, more tender songs, “Shoot the Moon” and “Fragile Lips,” demonstrating her ability to effectively utilize a diverse range of sounds.
Before the final song of the night, Cooper brought onstage a comically large prop cigarette, which she used to introduce the band; subverting the standard introduction of “on drums, on bass, etc.,” she introduced each band member as “on cig.” The band closed the set with the tour and album’s titular track, “Hot Sass.” The choice to play “Hot Sass” last was an understandable one — the song has a heavy punk vibe and was the most high-energy track of the night. When the song would begin to slow down, the drummer would burst into an ear splitting “one two three four” and the band would burst into a high-tempo riff. Despite the audience’s repeated cries for an encore, the band closed the set with “Hot Sass,” and the horde of 20- and 30-somethings filed out of Brighton Music Hall.
Over the course of the night, Cooper established herself as a triple threat: a guitarist, a divine vocalist and, to tie it all together, a performer. She is a must-see performer, and while the majority of the East Coast leg of her tour is over, she will be playing over 20 more shows throughout the U.S. over the next two months. If you have a chance to see her, you don’t want to miss that opportunity.