Sunday 18 September 2011

EMA, Waters at Cargo - 14 September 2011


I’m beginning to wonder if fists in the air college rock is making a comeback. We’ve recently had Butch Walker and the Black Widows’ “Summer of 89” and tonight in Cargo we get Waters.

Of course much of the best blue collar apparently American rock was actually Canadian in origin. And it is the influence of Neil Young and Bryan Adams that is very much apparent.

So this is rousing stuff, with much thrashing of guitar and tossing of hair. There is an urge to drink pissy American beer. An urge not indulged while Cargo thinks that £4.50 is an acceptable price for a small bottle – but I digress.

Van Pierszalowski is a handsome front man, fashionably dishevelled and breathless. He is extremely happy to be here tonight, as he repeatedly tells the rather aloof audience. I enjoy this set – it harks back to a time when bands didn’t care about being cool, but just wanted to have a good time. Waters warm things up nicely.

I have been looking forward to seeing EMA aka Erika M Anderson ever since she was one half of the brilliant but dangerously self-damaging combo Gowns.

Tonight, she is joined by a drummer, violinist and bassist. It turns out to be quite a ride.
Musically, the band are all over the place. In the sense that they head off in all sorts of different directions. What follows is less like a coherent set, but more an audition piece, designed to show range.

Abuse and victimhood are recurring themes, with first track “Marked” featuring the repeated line ‘ I wish that every time he touched me left a mark’. It’s all a bit gothy and witchy and ‘look at me, you don’t understand me’. She later sings her song ‘Butterfly Knife’ which is even more explicit about personal violence.

Songs veer from a whisper to a scream, often accompanied by sheets of distorting guitar and violin drone. It’s great, but a bit wearing.

EMA changes personae throughout. Sometimes brittle and vulnerable, sometimes a Courtney Love style rock chick and sometimes a sassy rap rock. It all reminds me of Pink – safe rebellion for tweenagers. It’s very impressive, but it also feels manipulative and fake.

We get a cover of a Violent Femmes song, and a blistering version of ‘California’, a free association letter of hate to the Sunshine State that throws out lyrical quotes from Bo Diddley and even ‘Camptown Races’.

I’m really glad to have finally caught up with EMA, and I’m a big fan of the album ‘Past Life Martyred Saints’ – it’s just that things don’t quite coalesce for me tonight. I can’t believe in this angst, because I suspect, the artist doesn’t either.

Live on Radio K: EMA - "Marked" from Radio K on Vimeo.

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