Cold Specks is the stage persona for Al Spx, a 23-year-old Canadian singer/songwriter/guitarist, currently touring to promote her stunning debut album I Predict a Graceful Expulsion. Traveling with a band of musicians that expands and contracts in numbers depending on her budget and the size of the venue, Spx opened Saturday’s show at Jammin’ Java by walking center stage in an oversized black shift and huge cardigan with rolled-up sleeves, where she unleashed a voice that sounds like it can’t possibly come from her very tiny, very young frame. Spx let the audience know immediately what we were in for - jaw dropping vocals morphing into a fuller sound as she was joined on stage first by a guitarist and a baritone sax, then by a drummer and keyboardist, and finally by a bass guitarist.
For songs like “The Mark,” the album’s opening track, the sax rumbled like a foghorn and acted as a perfect complement for Spx’s own throaty baritone. “Heavy Hands,” with its bleating chorus and the deep sax surging in the background, felt like waves pounding over the audience - the song has the best the qualities of a haunting funeral dirge, but Cold Specks somehow managed to pull it off without bringing the evening down with a thud. At the opening piano bars for “Winter Solstice,” Spx put down her guitar and just stood in front of the mike, staring at the ceiling as she belted out the most powerful song on the album. It was in moments like these that the evening took on an almost dreamlike state, with the trance broken by Spx’ dazzling smile at the end of each song.
Spx took a break after Solstice to talk to the audience a bit, making jokes and asking about American TV shows - she then pealed into a jazzed up, nearly unrecognizable version of the theme from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” which she’s been sprinkling into her shows for the past few months. She stopped with a laugh and the admonition that it would be the sole uplifting track of the evening, before warning “this next one is ‘When the City Lights Dim,’ and it’s fucking depressing.” And she’s not lying.
Spx has said in interviews that she plans to evolve from “Doom Soul” to “Morbid Motown” for the next album, and the two new songs introduced revealed a much bluesier, R&B feel than the gospel/folk edged songs on Graceful Expulsion. “All Flesh is Grass” may not have an official title yet, but the band obviously has a good grasp on where they’re headed, and Spx’ songwriting strengths are still very much intact.
Saturday’s show ended up as study in contrasts - Spx herself looks like a child, but writes and sings like a master. Her material is dark and bleak, but her on-stage persona is sunny and borderline joyous - it may help that Cold Specks is Al Spx, and Al Spx is also a pseudonym - the performer has said she’s able to deliver such depressing and personal material by pretending she’s a character on stage. However she manages to perform her music in public, no one who caught Saturday’s show could doubt that this is a young performer with a huge career ahead of her.