Abrasive. Gut wrenching. Delicate. Assured. Powerful.
These are all words that could be used to describe the force of nature that is EMA, but I’m going to use the most appropriate words I can think of to sum up Sunday night’s show at the Red Palace: KICK.ASS.
Playing to a room that was only half full (comfy, but shame on you DC), EMA took the stage to a wall of feedback that set the tone for the rest of the evening. Guitar screaming, dissonant clicks and pops being created by a handheld radio, the song “Butterfly Knife” eventually rose up out of that noise, and Erika M. Anderson (thus the “EMA”) settled in for the set.
On stage, Anderson doesn’t so much play her guitar as she does attack it. Working with technically only one albums worth of material (the excellent Past Lives, Martyred Saints), she creates textures and softer tones and then rips them apart with the flick of her hand across the strings. There is a fury in her performance, but there’s also a sense of purpose, and whatever punch these songs have on the record is amplified 10 fold just by EMA’s stage presence.
Absolutely destroying songs like “California”, “Milkman” and “The Grey Ship”(the album’s single), Anderson spent the evening veering back and forth between being a howling force of nature to a quiet, almost vulnerable/childlike singer who was letting you in on some secret emotion hidden in the pages of a diary somewhere, and spent little time in-between. It was as raw, beautiful and a wonder to behold.
It should be noted that when Anderson is in the song, there is nothing but the business at hand. But the banter between those songs revealed a funny, down to earth performer, seemingly free of all the angst that she pours into her art. Anderson seems to be so unnaturally good at what she does that she can just turn it on or off in the blink of an eye. One minute, loud and angry, the next, a super cool California (transplant) girl that you want to grab a beer with after the show. This duality, this tension, made for a memorable evening full of noise, humor and most of all, great music.
EMA preaching the rock gospel to the the crowd
So you want to know how the show was? It’s like I said; It was a raw, abrasive, gut wrenching, delicate,assured, powerful performance by a wonder of a musician. But mostly it was just kick-ass.