Kate Nash - Zanzibar, Liverpool, 20 June 2012 1

Kate Nash – Zanzibar, Liverpool, 20 June 2012

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So, my mate PM’d me. Did I want to go see Kate Nash? He was supposed to be going with some female friend, but get this, said friend had heard Kate’s new stuff the day before the gig and bailed on that basis. Hilarious, and if that’s what it’ll do to a person, then, why yes, it was surely to be an unmissable occasion.

We flogged under the Mersey and over to Liverpool, parking up in time to find a fairly mahoosive queue. It went around the corner at any rate. Being slightly self conscious because we weren’t teenage girls, aren’t teenage anything for that matter, we joined the line up.

And as so often happens, the 60 or so young ladies in front of us, who had waited ages darling, as soon as we got in, they all went and bought drinks, and lolled about the Zanzibar’s booth-ish seating, while we sauntered up and plonked ourselves in front of the stage. I’m not sure it was a good idea, it’s semi-heretical being so close you have to snap your head back out of the way of Kate’s guitar when you (whisper it) don’t know all the words to ‘Foundations’.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Kate – that duet she did with Billy Bragg was enough to secure her in my affections. I’d heard of this new direction, and was curious. When the set list got taped onto the stage there was a clue – Grrrl spelt with five or was it six ‘R’s ? A drum kit emblazoned with a girl power slogan, a bass guitar with stickers referencing Kathleen Hanna and Kurt (and I don’t think she was meaning Vile).

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I’d obviously not been paying enough attention though. The lights went down, the rest of the band got led on in the dark, and then instead of the pleasantly nice-but-frumpish young lady of old, was this thin streak of determination dressed in some 70’s zip up nylon thing, dark hair shot through with a bolt of white, and most tellingly, earrings on one side replaced by safety pins. Alright, I know they were probably (very expensive) earrings in the shape of safety pins, but there was without doubt a point intended to be made with those pins. I simply would not have recognised her.

Kate told us up front that we were going to hear new material tonight and we did. The old songs, of which there only a few in the set list, were so completely re-constituted as to be recognisable in the way that cover versions are recognisable. Even ‘Foundations’ was not spared, being transformed from plinky-plonk into something visceral with howling Fender electric guitar overlays. Hell, there was even a guitar solo. There wasn’t a keyboard on the stage, never mind a genteel Rhodes piano; there wouldn’t have been spiritual room anyway.

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The sound? My immediate thought was Sleater-Kinney. OK, I know that’s a lazy comparison, they’re one of the touch-stones for Riot Grrl, but that’s what got lodged in my head. Until we got Kate’s vocals coming through. Yes, there was a lot more vigour and angst, but there was still an echo of that estuarine voiced girl from the London suburbs, so the best I can do is Sleater-Kinney fronted by, errr, Kate Nash, and even that is enough to make you go cross-eyed with the effort of trying to imagine it.

I just grabbed some random images with my phone – hey it’s good to be creative – and that top one is while she was doing ‘Rap For Rejection’. As Kate quipped (yes, that’s the word) “a white girl rapping about sexism – Radio One are going to be all over that shit aren’t they?” Cue laughter but it worked for Northern State. For a while anyway. They were well aware of the challenge of the new material and had gone to the trouble of printing hand-outs with the words to ‘You’re So Cool, I’m So Freaky’, useful given that it relied on a sing-along choir chorus. She’s keen to show she’s been exploring – the other big sticker on her guitar was for Fidlar, and she covered their ‘Cocaine’ but with a twist, explaining that she’d misheard the lyrics as ‘Girl Gang’, so that’s how she does her version. Apparently Fidlar suffered a Freudian slip on stage recently and accidentally sang it Kate’s way. Fidlar? A Grrrl Gang? Hmmm…

Genuinely I think we are seeing the spirit of the girl who insisted in the face of her management on playing the Pure Groove record store back in 2007 alongside those bigger venues, at a time when she was already famous. History is mainly useful for setting expectations of the present. Those expectations can become constrictions and we all deserve to be able to break free of those. Without such weight, take this as an all-girl post-punk band, still finding their feet but with some damn good tunes underneath it all. A bit loud and crashy, one that will take a bit of perseverance to get under the skin, and it’ll probably turn out to be worth the effort.

So what was she doing then, our Kate, with all this flipping the bird to her previous persona? Moving on and assuming she’ll take at least some of her audience with her? Hoping to find a new audience? Both of the above I suspect, and under no illusions about what it will cost her in popularity. You gotta be able to sleep at night though, haven’t you? She got my vote, and my respect. Enough that I’ll stick with what she’s doing for a while anyways.

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  1. This shift just seems SO contrived to me but then it isn’t aimed at me and like you say maybe she is tapping into some of her orginal influences. And to be fair the NME don’t help with silly articles about her and punk, and she has set up that guitar school for girls so fair play.

  2. The promotion of women’s right to an equal place in music surely gets my approval too, but that’s a separate issue.
    In the same way, Kate’s past SHOULD be a separate issue to the music she now chooses to produce, but of course it ain’t that easy, especially when she’s covering Foundations (see what I did there?)
    NME ? – that’s the one rag I get delivered every week, but somehow I missed that bit of tripe editorial. Seriously, Kate Nash and her band, right here, right now, are an interesting development band, on a par with the ilk of…ooooh, let’s see…. Wet Mouth, or Pins, or Dutch Uncles, or maybe Dead Sara, all of whom I would pay to go and see, but none of whom are this year’s Joy Div. (We’ll leave that burden to Savages)

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