It’s been a year since EMA’s thunderous debut album Past Life MartyredSaints arrived. It was an album which stood out because of its unbarredemotional intensity, and it was always going to take a lot to recreatethat in a live setting.
This headlining show at Scala in King’s Cross is her last in London “fora while” and arrives off the back of a show stealing performance atBrighton’s Great Escape festival the previous weekend. Throughout this80-minute set she is flanked by a band that includes a drummer, aguitarist/bassist and violinist/keyboardist, and while the three of themhelp replicate the visceral, tortured sounds of the record there’s nodoubt as to who everyone’s sight is fixated on.
Erika M Anderson’s presence is striking. For one thing, she is six feet tall.For another, she struts around the stage with a swagger that oozesconfidence. If anyone else tried to walk around the Scala and play guitarwith leftover Christmas lights or twirl a disco ball (which thensubsequently breaks) it would look considerably less bad-ass than EMAmanages to make it look.
Banter is kept to a minimum, and when Anderson does address the crowdyou get the feeling that it is only to break the silence that punctuatesthe gaps between songs. But this is an extremely attentive audience thatis more than happy to wait for the next track to start rather thanheckle. Their patience doesn’t go unrewarded. The Grey Ship, after acouple of false starts, spends its first half shuffling along andratcheting up the tension before turning into a full-blown tour-de-force.Butterfly Knife is a devastating knock-out blow; its eerie atmosphericintroduction interrupted by the sound of Anderson tapping the microphoneagainst the side of her head to replicate a beating heart before a wallof distortion is unleashed. The one moment when Anderson does strip thesound entirely is when she stands alone with her guitar to coverCherylee from her old band, Gowns, and it is no lesscaptivating.
It would have been easy for Anderson’s vocals to remain buriedunderneath all the feedback and crashing cymbals but, thankfully, it doesn’t. She portrays multiple emotions: there is a palpablesense of fear in Marked when she describes her arms as “see throughplastic”, whilst the mantra of “I’ll come back to you/In another life”at the end of Anteroom is delivered with no small amount of angst. Themain set ends with California, a raw succession of thoughts and feelingsthat are sung with a huge amount of conviction.
The encore goes on for longer than it needs to, but that is only asmall glitch in an otherwise brilliant and highly engrossing evening.It’s arresting without being too exhaustive and, when Anderson and herband really let loose and rock out, the results are stunning. Hopefullythe wait for her to return isn’t a long one.