Tonight Marika Hackman returns to the scene of surely one of the most triumphant shows of her career to date – Mama Roux’s, deep in the heart of downtown Digbeth. That night was a balmy Whitsun Bank Holiday Monday in 2017, this one is a little fresher around the edges on a cold, dark March Tuesday.
Before she takes to the stage, though, come South London’s Talk Show (not to be confused with the American hard rock band of the same name). This Talk Show are an energetic live proposition, front man Harrison Swann admitting “I wasn’t expecting this many people here so early” as the already full venue gives his band, which is signed to The Maccabees’ Felix White’s new Yala! label, an enthusiastic reception. It drives the band on, their mix of Swann’s Fontaines DC vocal delivery (though clearly with a very different accent) with bass and guitar that could be Public Image Ltd’s Jah Wobble and John McGeoch respectively.
‘Banshee’ from recent These People E.P. is greeted warmly, with its insistent vocal refrain of “I had a dream we were dancing in the dark together”. It’s probably safe to say we will be hearing of Talk Show a fair bit more.
The haunting sound of the theme tune from The X-Files then fills the venue, as Marika Hackman and band take to the stage and launch straight into a big hitter, the insanely catchy ‘The One’ from last year’s best album, Any Human Friend (if you don’t believe me, you could always use a Freedom Of Information request to see my writers’ poll votes). The sound is absolutely immense and Hackman’s voice as sublime as ever, the tune a close cousin to Blondie’s ‘Heart Of Glass’, at least in terms of the intro and groove, at the same time as being truly original.
”We love playing in Birmingham, last time we played here was amazing”, says Hackman referencing that last show at this unique venue, before throwing another ‘should have been number one for sixteen weeks’ hit in early (my words, not hers), in the shape of ‘My Lover Cindy’ from second album I’m Not Your Man. From the same record comes the glam stomp of ‘Times Been Reckless’ and it doesn’t take long to register that she isn’t using up all the good tunes early because she has SO MANY great songs. That said, it’s an incredible opening salvo.
Hackman enquires as to whether anyone is on a date, and suggests that if they are, they might want to “spend the next three and a half minute gazing into each others’ eyes to see if it will really work” before delivering an intense ‘All Night’ – the backing vocals from guitarist Matt, (who turns out to be a local hero, hailing from Birmingham) and bassist Jelly, lift it even higher into the stars.
Another couple of winners from the new album follow, ‘I’m Not Where You Are’ and ‘Come Undone’, prompting Hackman to reflect that wearing boiler suits may not have been the best decision in the heat of the Mama Roux’s stage! Hackman indeed has a very warm rapport with her audience, later even asking someone from the front row to put her guitar strap back on during ‘Conventional Ride’.
There’s an intense return to the debut album We Slept At Last in the shape of a grunged-up version of its opening track ‘Drown’. There’s another debut album cut in a three-song solo segment that recalls Hackman’s early shows in the form of the beautifully haunting ‘Claude’s Girl’. ‘Cigarette’ and delicate current album opener ‘Wanderlust’ also get the solo treatment to the rapt attention of the room. In this setting, the songs recall the stately elegance of early Red House Painters – it might seem an odd comparison given the more upbeat material (especially from the last two albums), but Marika Hackman and that band’s Mark Kozelek share a similar aesthetic in their mesmerising vocals and indeed, sometimes dark, sometimes humorous lyrics that often stray from the well-trodden path of others. Plus both are excellent guitarists in a style not dissimilar to each other.
The band come back and give Hackman a song away from guitar duties with a poptastic ‘Blow Your Mind’, while the excellent ‘Send My Love’ is described by its creator as “sad but groovy”, a pretty accurate description as it turns out. Hackman gleefully announces “this one’s about masturbation” before she and the band launch into recent single ‘Hand a Solo’ before the the show ends in triumphant fashion with a singalong ‘Boyfriend’.
The briefest of intermissions passes before Hackman appears back on stage on her own for a touching reading of Elliot Smith’s ‘Between The Bars’, before the band come back for a last celebratory spin through the last album’s title track ‘Any Human Friend’.
It’s another superb Birmingham outing for Marika Hackman. There’s not a single person here who won’t be here next time.