by Katharine Fry
I had been excited for a whole two weeks and that’s a long time to be thinking about something in London town. My first encounter with EMA – fronted by one 6 foot Viking from South Dakota, Erika M Anderson – was as the support for Zola Jesus in Heaven last November where she blew her out of the water. EMA came with an extra foot of balls, sweat and guitar busting; a female hurricane of punk-grunge-rock. This girl needed a headline slot and my diaphragm longed for the shaking bass decimation only she could provide. Enough band foreplay, on to the show.
She came on stage quietly, with a cardigan and cup of tea, having already shown off her trademark peroxide-turned-black locks while plugging in her pedals, and got down to business. With only her debut Past Life Martyred Saints seemingly under her belt, I thought I’d know the score from start to finish. But surprises there were! First up was new song Stand delivered in near darkness in a voice that trembled with raw sincerity before the lights, drums and punk attitude kicked in.
Next came Angelo ,the b-side to single Marked, where she moved and crooned like a Karen O’s hot sister. Then came the moment I’d been waiting weeks for – the ear, mind and insides busting The Grey Ship, a 7 minute anthem to her Viking heritage. After a few feedback-heavy false starts we were away but…nothing busted. She just didn’t seem to get loud or heavy enough. The raw energy that been sprayed across Heaven’s walls was definitely staying in the can tonight.
Then came Christmas in the guise of album track Milkman with our main lady wrapped in fairy lights, swinging a mirror ball on a string as it smashed across the stage. ‘Can we make it dark and scary in here?’ she asked, setting the tone for the next few songs: Butterfly Knife was an ode to self-harm in high school through which Anderson pounded the mike into the side of her head like a breaking heartbeat. In Anteroom she purred and punked ‘if this time through we don’t get it right, I’ll come back to you in another life…’ Then, alone on stage, Anderson took charge, eyes closed, of the night’s darkest moment, almost wailing Cherrylee, a song of selling sex to faceless men from her former folkier outfit Gowns.
Red Star was a fine warm-up to closing song California when the energy finally went through the roof and her passion became ferally physical. ‘Fuck California. You made me boring.’ She ate the remaining shards of mirror ball while the bassist scraped the neck of her guitar across the floor and the electric violin went apeshit. Then mike hit the ground like a gunshot and it’s all over.
So, was it what I had been waiting for? I missed the massive bass that once nearly blew-up a puppy (this was carried out in a controlled lab environment, of course) and the punk-grunge attitude I had fallen for was this time replaced by a more focused, honed energy. I didn’t get the outlet for my rage that I had been looking for – rage induced by the two male fucktards who follow EMA from gig to gig screaming like witless dicks and groping girls, who I had kicked, punched and butted and had hoped to gut with some shiny mirror ball shards – and some of her punk destruction felt more staged than building out of performance energy, but with a night of raw emotion and intensity like this, I’ll be coming back for more, in this life.