Live Report: Ethel Cain – Heaven, London

Hauntingly beautiful, Cain has us transfixed…

After some hardstyle experimental electronica delivered by Glasgow based artists Kavari, the sold out Heaven stands packed side by side waiting impatiently for Florida-born star on the rise Ethel Cain to take to Heaven’s stage. 

Finally, she emerges like some sort of tattooed angel, bathed in light, large white cross in the centre of her name that paints the screen behind her, matching the band in puritanical white. For someone who plays with such twisted imagery in her music, Cain’s stage presence is surprisingly gentle as she admits her initial urges to cancel the tour after being wracked with nerves. 

Smash hit ‘American Teenager’ has the room jumping along, suddenly transforming hundreds of of (mostly) queer Londoners into small town high school girls screaming “it’s just not my year…”

Affectionately known by her fans as ‘mother’, it now becomes clear why the title has stuck; she sings lovingly to the front row, touching hands and faces, staring deep into the adoring eyes and causing everyone in sight to want to fight to the front so they too may be inducted into the cult of Cain. One of the transfixed followers hands her a trans flag and she clutches it to her chest as she sings. “Jesus if you’re there, why do I feel alone in this room with you?”

Live Report: Ethel Cain – Heaven, London

She moves from the country twang of ‘Thouroughfare’ through darker tales of sex and sin in the devilish ‘Gibson Girl’, the red lights transforming the angelic figure into a hellish beauty. Soaring vocals carry over heavy droning piano tones, often met with a stunned silence from the crowd. 

With a stripped back setup, the drummer and guitarist make use of various backing tracks and pedals to emulate her debut LP’s signature swampy grunge, although at times we feel ourselves wondering if there was more to be done to capture the richness of the album’s sound. A palpable excitement is felt when seeing an act such as Cain’s in its early stages, one with such a unique and strong identity that its possibilities for growth are limitless. 

‘House In Nebraska’ has many onlookers in tears, arms around each other as they watch transfixed by Ethel Cain’s clawed acrylics carving soft shapes in the light as her vocals soar out over the room. She turns her face upwards into the light as if receiving the Holy Spirit. “I’m tired of you still tied to me” we sing-along under our breath, not wanting to miss a moment. 

An encore is delivered to screams of joy, pandering to old and new fans with perhaps her biggest track from the Inbred EP ‘Crush’, a sordid tale of a troubled small town sweetheart, the kind of stories that Ethel Cain articulates so deliciously. 

Words: Oshen Douglas-McCormick

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