The Deaf Institute - Manchester
I recently saw a newspaper headline proclaiming this to be “The Year Of The Woman”. In reality this article was in relation to the chart dominance of female pop stars such as Adele and Lady Gaga, but in practice this could easily be extended to the alternative scene. Lykke Li, Pj Harvey, Laura Marling, Anna Calvin and St Vincent have all produced outstanding albums, with Zola Jesus hopefully soon to follow suit.
For me, though, the best female star of this year has been South Dakota’s Erika M. Anderson (EMA) with her album Past Life Martyred Saints. The mix of grunge, noise rock and folk mines similar territory to her previous band Gowns, a band who were recently described by Pitchfork (post breakup) as “one of the most jaw-dropping live bands on the American DIY underground circuit”. Hype was high then, and I had a huge amount of anticipation for this gig. And boy did it deliver.
The most immediate and stand out features of her songs are their internal manipulation of fidelities, the sheer density of sounds within, and their coherence but complexity. I was intrigued as to how this could be achieved live and the answer was, surprisingly well. Her voice and guitar were backed up on stage by percussion, a second guitar and most importantly an electric viola. The interplay between the 4 musicians was impressive, always important when a structure is required in such cathartic songs.
As good as the band are, and as impressive as the venue is (it cannot be understated how wonderful The Deaf Institute is), it was still EMA who was the star of the show. From imitating the tricks of long dead blues singers (playing the guitar with her teeth) to punk rock posturing, she did everything in her power to entertain the crowed. At one point she announced her wish to pay homage to the “only other music to come from South Dakota” before bursting into a particularly energetic version of Add It Up. I recently saw this performed by writer Gordon Gano himself (with Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah!) and it is honestly difficult to decide who did it better.
This song was in fact chosen by her fans on Twitter who were asked to pick their favorite Violent Femme’s song for her to perform. This type of fan interaction was also present in the show with her proving quite chatty between songs.
As mentioned before the magic of the evening was further increased by a wonderful venue and a great support band. I would recommend seeing her live to anyone, and her tour with Zola Jesus later this year should be well worth attending.