The last thing my wife always says to me before I leave with my cameras for a gig is – Have you got your earplugs? It’s not intended as a slight on the artists involved, it’s just that down in the pit you often end up very close to the speakers and the results can be literally deafening. On Friday night, October 11th, as I opened the door and she asked the usual question and I just shrugged and said, “Hey, it’s a Kate Nash gig. How loud can it be?”
And the answer to that question is… a lot louder than you think.
Having made her name as a composer and performer with witty and quirky songs about relationships delivered almost parlando, full of humour and spiced with just enough home truths to make girls love her and boys feel uncomfortable, Nash lost her record deal with Universal and had to crowd fund her latest album Girl Talk (QRO review), but instead of sticking to formula and playing safe she has used the new found artistic freedom to reinvent herself and her sound.
Drawing inspiration from the Riot Grrl movement and her own previous involvement in the indie/punk scene (she used to play bass in side project punk band The Receders) the new Kate Nash is a performer far removed from the dreamy, wistful popstrel of Foundations and Mouthwash. This Kate Nash is an all together louder, more abrasive, punkier performer. The new album has had mixed reviews, being dismissed as punk feminism light in some quarters but live it’s a different matter and backed by a first rate ‘all girl band’ (not a phrase I’m entirely happy using, but it seemed to be the epithet of choice on the night so I’ll use it here) Nash delivered a storming set at Birmingham’s Institute.
First up, on a night when the stage was dominated by female performers, were The Tuts, an ‘all girl’ three-hander from Hayes, who sounded a little like a female version of the Libertines and quickly got the crowd on side with a high energy dose of melodic punk ska. While not always subtle – “If you’ve got a shit boyfriend, get rid of that boyfriend” they yelled before the (unsurprisingly titled) “Dump Your Boyfriend” – they have great tunes and should be a name to reckon with in the future.
They were followed by Vulkano, a female duo (with a male bass player in tow but frankly this just smacks of tokenism) from Sweden with a great line in post-punk indie-pop, and a singer who also plays lead drums, which is an unusual combination. They’re two fifths of Those Dancing Days but considerably harder edged. Their songs are about wolves and spiders, and lead singer Cissi Efraimsson makes some great noises, including an impressive selection of animal influenced barks and yelps and a red Indian warble which rapidly became a feature of the night while hitting the drums extremely hard. Possibly they had upset her.
Kate Nash was backed by an all-girl band dressed in black, while she herself had an extraordinary dress made of brightly coloured hearts. This is an online music magazine not Vogue, and I am not a fashion blogger, but the dress was fabulous and should get its own show and Kate Nash wore it very nicely. Nash’s new style is fast, angry indie-punk, which suited the new songs just fine. They’re not her subtlest work and they work a lot better live than they do on the album where their relative simplicity is more of a problem. Here they functioned as a perfect canvas for Nash and the band to lean into and make some great music around, and the wilder and more exuberant the performance the better they sounded although older songs like “Foundations” and “Mouthwash” fared less well, the lyric getting somewhat lost in the mix.
This is a minor quibble in a fine show however. Nash has a great easy stage presence and a loyal following – the Institute was packed – and the crowd hung on her every phrase. When she left the stage at the end of the main set, following a stage invasion and some of the funniest crowd surfing I’ve seen in ages, the chant was not “Encore!” or “More!” but “Where the fuck is Kate?”, which seemed to be appreciated by the lady herself when she returned for a finale performance of “Merry Happy”, one of the few among her old songs which sounded pretty much like their original selves on the night.