As the audience shuffles into Islington’s Assembly Hall on Thursday evening it’s the beginning of a Bank Holiday weekend. No one is excitedly announcing it over the PA, and there is no jolly signage heralding the beginning of a four-day weekend, but you can just tell. For two reasons: everybody is slightly damp, and there is a slightly frenzied queue for the bar, not usually witnessed to this extent on what would normally be a ‘school night’. Yup, it is a great British Bank Holiday, which can only mean two things – shit weather, and the consumption of copious amounts of booze.
Emma-Lee Moss takes the stage appearing just as the image on the new Emmy The Great record, Second Love. Her white turtleneck and braids give the impression of a 21st century Pocahontas, a lady who is more than a match for this highly charged and exuberant crowd. She launches straight into Hypnotists Son from her 2009 debut, which tames the crowd and elicits many a giggle with its sardonic lyrics: “I thought romance was pretty/Then you went and spoiled it/Every time that I think of you/Have to go to the toilet/Can’t tell if this is love/Or a stomach disorder/Or a massive grade A typhoon/Inside my aorta.”
But tonight belongs to Second Love’s rich offerings that really showcase how Moss has developed as a songwriter. This set of songs has evolved from the love-battered acoustics of her previous records to include lush electronics and a thematic preoccupation with technology. The stage is dressed appropriately with two screens that flank Moss, their dimensions similar to that of an iPhone. They’re implemented most effectively on her rendition of Social Halo. Whilst Moss sings of social alienation in modern times, the screens light up with two ghostly figures who move in time to the music in the fashion of geisha girls. It’s both visual and musical hypnotism and gentle bittersweet commentary.
Her observations on the effect of technology on relationships are rendered most powerfully through the performance of Hyperlink. She and her band breathe life into every click and blip to create a gloriously shimmering version who’s “love is the answer” refrain is decorated with a glimmering disco ball. But Moss is not one for sugary conclusions, and so the songs sparkle makes the “Oh, but I/I’m a comfortable liar” payoff brutally crushing. It’s like being at first hazily and euphorically intoxicated then monstrously hungover in just over four minutes.
That’s not to say this is a glum evening; Moss has too much warmth and humour to allow it to be a maudlin affair. She regularly interacts with the audience, gamely answering boozy requests, and cracking out the occasional anecdote on everything from Instagram and ‘the gods’ to Werner Herzog. And she plays a set that nicely balances the new material with old favourites, each of which gets a special reception. We Almost Had A Baby and First Love get a rapturous response, but it’s her final song of the evening that is most triumphant. A powerful Paper Forest sends the crowd out into the soggy night elated with the lyric “I’m blessed” ringing in their ears.
Before Emmy the Great took the stage John Lennon’s Oh, Yoko played over the PA. The simple, yet sincere, sentiments were the perfect preface for this evening – “In the middle of a shave/In the middle of a shave I call your name/Oh Yoko.” Despite her concerns about the effect of everyday technological banality on human connections, Moss facilitated an evening of simple pleasures away from the daily grind with some great music that satisfied and united an audience eager for four days of freedom.