Subtlety and charm amidst the feedback
EMA - Live At Deaf Institute, Manchester

A few months ago, when Clash first met Erika M. Anderson she told us a joke to prove she wasn't as dark and intense as her wonderful debut album, 'Past Life Martyred Saints', suggested. It wasn't a very good joke but we laughed anyway.

Tonight, pre-gig in the bunk-bedroom (don't ask) of the Deaf Institute's backstage quarters, she has a second joke for us. “A guy goes into a bar with a steering wheel down his pants,” she starts. “The barman says 'What's with the steering wheel?' and the guy says 'I dunno, but it's driving me nuts'.” Cue deafening silence and the whiff of tumbleweed.

If she sucks as a comedienne, Anderson, thankfully, has a day-job to fall back on. Her first headline show in Manchester is close to sold-out and while she's cracking 'jokes' with Clash, the crowd lap up the ferocious noise of local duo Ghost Outfit, whose raw energy fizzes with potential.

Live, EMA are a four-piece with an additional guitarist and a keyboard player-cum-violinist adding further weight to Anderson's torrid tales. She begins with the mighty 'Marked' which gushes with controlled desolation. 'Grey Ship' is pretty mighty, without scaling the heights of the album version; the struggle for Anderson is while she has both on-stage presence and amiable attitude, her music contains both subtlety and charm amidst the feedback. It is a tough one to transfer to the live setting, even if tonight EMA gets close.

We are treated to a gutsy rendition of Violent Femmes' 'Add It Up' (it is always a pleasure to hear the couplet “Words all fail the magic prize / Nothing I can say when I'm in your thighs”) before Anderson ramps up the intensity with a trio of noise and melody. 'Butterfly Knife' is hellishly mesmerising, 'Red Star' dissolves into electric-violin chaos, while the closing 'California' sees Anderson act out her gangsta hell. The image of a gun-toting, crotch-grabbing Viking goddess will last long in the memory.

Words by John Freeman

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