A wet autumn Monday evening in Brighton and a musty, neon-lit basement proves a harsh welcome to a depleted crowd gathered to catch EMA (aka Erika M. Anderson) and her band.
Straight from a delayed ferry from Calais, EMA kicks off a brief UK tour at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar. Support comes in the achingly-hip form of Dubais, whose confidence and personality - not to mention soulful voice - claim quick wins with the audience, British graces being softened by American charm.
After a slightly chaotic entrance, and apparently, no time to sound check, EMA takes to the stage with the sad news of Tom Petty’s passing, and go straight into an unrehearsed version of ‘You Don't Know How It Feels’ in a fitting tribute. The moment is shattered shortly after by a somewhat surreal heckler - all taken in natural stride by Anderson and the band, who proceed to launch into tracks from her fifth album, ‘Exile in the Outer Ring’. EMA is backed by a tight band of drummer and multi-instrumentalist that provide the ideal platform for her experimentation and performance art-style. The sound, shifting quickly from post-punk guitars with driving drum lines to experimental violin and synth-scapes, creates a heady and capturing atmosphere. Between songs, Anderson is humble with polite acknowledgements of the crowd, before launching back into songs that are driven by a clear sense of purpose and message. Tales of alienation, political disaffection, drug abuse and self-harm are gleaned and expressed through a set that spans the last 7 years of her career, and that demonstrates an increasing depth of powerful material that feels likes a rallying cry. Despite this, the energy of the songs steer the tone away from maudlin, even as Anderson pays tribute to the victims of the Las Vegas massacre and extols the virtues of living in the gun-controlled UK vs. the fear-riddled US knowing that, “you guys aren’t packing here tonight right?”
Afterwards, the leftover feeling is one of frustration expressed through a visceral performance that perfectly captures the sense of the times and has the confidence of an act that is road practised and unapologetic about their mission to challenge and inspire audiences in equal measure - certainly, EMA is an act to witness live.