Irritating things about gigs: People talking through the acts. Poor acoustics. Lads looking for a fight throwing beer (and worse) over people and singing football chants. Not being able to see the stage.
All of which makes the reverent atmosphere of Sheffield Cathedral quite a nice change for a gig. The acoustics, as you’d expect, are excellent, the audience are rapt and enthusiastic while remaining civilised (why, there’s even someone reading a book inbetween bands) and it generally makes for the perfect venue, especially for acoustic based folk.
Sheffield is the first stop on Emmy The Great’s tour of churches and cathedrals – an odd choice maybe, when you consider that her new album Virtue was apparently inspired by her former fiance renouncing his atheism and joining the church.
First up though is Grace Petrie, who rather charmingly keeps apologising for swearing and describes her songs as “half sad, depressing love songs and half angry political stuff…I am happy occasionally, I promise”. Petrie’s songs may lean heavily on the polemic, but they’re also rather brilliant.
It’s not hard to see why Billy Bragg, who she supported at The Troxy earlier this year, has been a vocal champion. These are blisteringly angry songs, but written with enough wit and intelligence not to come across as ranting. Emily Davidson’s Blues and Goodbye To Welfare are both highlights, but Petrie can touch the heartstrings as well – Iago is one of the saddest love songs you’ll hear all year. In times like these we need a voice to express anger and dissent – Grace Petrie could be just that voice.
Emma-Lee Moss’ lyrics have always been more abstract, but no less affecting. Her debut album First Love delivered on her early promise, and it’s just about to be followed up by Virtue. Tonight’s show lent heavily on the new album (nine of the album’s ten tracks were aired) but they’re such good songs that it hardly seemed to matter.
Clad all in black and wearing a T-shirt simply proclaiming ‘oh shit!’, Moss led her five piece band (including Younghusband‘s Euan Hinshelwood through the opening Dinosaur Sex, before leading beautifully into A Woman A Woman A Century Of Self. Although few people in the audience will have heard these new songs, they were all greeted as warmly as old favourite We Almost Had A Baby.
In fact, it was the perfect setting to ponder over some of Moss’ new lyrics. There’s religious imagery abound, especially in The Afterglow of Rapture and Creation – the latter of which is almost Dylan-esque in its intriguing poeticness.
There was still room for a couple of old favourites, including the debut album’s title track and a superb cover version of The Meat Puppets‘ Lake Of Fire. Yet it was another new track that was a particular highlight – a lovely, hushed version of Virtue’s closing song Trellick Tower, accompanied by Jenny Lau on keyboards.
The encore saw a request for old favourite Canopies & Drapes (with Emma suddenly swapping the Magnetic Fields‘ reference in the original to one about Deerhunter) before ending with a cover of the Pixies’ Where Is My Mind. It was the perfect finish to an unusual, but heartwarming, gig.
Emmy The Great played: Dinosaur Sex, A Woman A Woman A Century Of Sleep, We Almost Had A Baby, Cassandra, Iris, The Afterglow Of Rapture, Lake Of Fire, Creation, Paper Forest, Exit Night, First Love, North, Trellick Tower. Encore: The Easter Parade, Canopies & Drapes, Where Is My Mind