Some occasional traces of lilac and emerald aside, the Brudenell stage is swathed in a dense misty blue light for the entire duration of this performance. Whether it is purely by accident or moreover some grand design, the swirling clouds of dry ice add to this acute sense of impenetrability, something that the music emanating from within merely serves to reinforce.
Somewhere in that ethereal fog stands Erika M. Anderson and her three musical cohorts. We know it is her because the electronic fuzz of ‘Satellites’ soon splutters into life; the opaque atmosphere giving the song an even greater air of uncertainty and alienation. The lead single from her recently released second album, The Future’s Void it is one of eight songs from that record she plays tonight – ‘Smoulder’ and ‘100 Years’ are the two that do not make the final cut. Robbed of their relative studio sheen, when they are performed live these songs become rough reflections of themselves in some much darker mirror. They change into far more coarse shards of industrial rock and grunge-pop, whilst still maintaining their essential punk spirit.
‘California’, her withering assessment of a dysfunctional past life in the Golden State surrounded by violence and emotional meltdown, sounds even more startling when located in this evening’s nebulous environment. The ensuing ‘3Jane’, though, is still able to puncture the gloom with the nagging iridescence of its really quite beautiful melody. And the penultimate ‘Solace’, all droning synth and martial drumming and where Anderson duets perfectly with her fellow female guitarist, is positively inspired.
“We make the constellations out of her beauty marks” the two women sing in harmony and when Anderson returns by herself for an initial encore of ‘Anteroom’ these words assume an even greater significance. Suddenly this striking six foot South Dakotan appears far more fragile, more vulnerable, stood as she is all alone at the microphone stand. With that snarling hybrid of Kim Gordon and Kim Deal temporarily hidden, the emotional honesty of the woman who is EMA now manifests itself in the guise of some wracked country singer.
Such is her protean musical versatility, EMA can shift from Cat Power to Mark Linkous to Pixies in the blink of an eye, as a rousing second encore of ‘White Like Heaven’ – a song taken from Anderson’s previous band Gown’s drone-folk album Red State – will seriously attest. Erika M. Anderson may well have been shrouded in obscurity this evening but the strength and strangely disconnected beauty of her music ultimately manages to shine through.