EMA at 7th St. Entry, 3/08/12

EMA at 7th St. Entry, 3/08/12
Photo by Tony Nelson

With Nu Sensae
7th Street Entry, Minneapolis
Thursday, March 8, 2012

View a slideshow from the concert here.

In an interview last spring Erika M. Anderson described her approach to EMA in these terms: "Someone once told me that, in film-making, when you want to show an act of great beauty and kindness, set it in a dirty, rainy back alley, and when you want to show a horrible battle, place it on springtime country field. I try to keep it like that." This account couldn't be more apt and last night concertgoers at 7th St. Entry got to witness the beauty of this musical juxtaposition live.

But before the atmosphere of the club became poignant, the audience was jolted into vitality by Vancouver trio Nü Sensae. Flirting along the lines of more hardcore genres of punk, Nü Sensae, though clearly not the "cup of tea" of all in attendance, delivered a hyper-lively set. Screeching vocals, hurricane-speed percussion, and throaty bass may not appeal to the masses but man: it builds energy and it's a blast to watch.

Easing into her set with a cautious, rendering of "Marked," EMA's skill on guitar was evident almost immediately, and it held up through the entire intensity roller coaster of her performance. Based on the delicate nature of her voice, one doesn't necessarily imagine an artist like EMA shredding it on guitar like the best of 'em. But tracks such as "Milkman" and "Anteroom" turned into tension-building, fuzzed-out jam sessions, drawing to mind the similar sense of wonder I experienced when seeing St. Vincent "break it down" for the first time.

EMA at 7th St. Entry, 3/08/12
Photo by Tony Nelson

Her demeanor onstage was natural and conversational, easily charming with quips about her mother or South Dakota boys in between tracks. It was entertaining to eavesdrop on the commentary of many of the young men in attendance and I don't blame them: it's hard not to have a crush on EMA.

Her edge comes undoubtedly from the ability to take quiet, introspective songs and give them huge dimension through instrumentation. This is precisely the aesthetic that gave her album so much potency, however there was something inherently lacking from the performance as a whole. It wasn't her artistry. Her vocals were spot-on and her playing was riveting, especially in the improvised sense. Yet, for some reason it just didn't live up to the grandiosity of hearing that album in your earbuds or on your stereo. Certain raw elements of tracks like "California" just weren't transferable and because the album was so powerful, it made the live performance seem underwhelming.

This shouldn't be interpreted as a disappointment in EMA as an artist. It simply means that certain albums flourish more on recording and others flourish more in performance. She's an incredible musician and songwriter, there's no question about that. So, in the most important sense, EMA provided every reason to stay supportive of her burgeoning career.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal bias: I'm much more particular to female musicians who plug in their guitars.

The crowd: mostly late twenty-somethings with a small mix of the Radio K crowd.

Overheard in the crowd: "Where's the great hour long EMA Stooges cover of 2012?"

Random Notebook Dump: for as tame as a show as it was, there was an awful lot of bottle smashing going on in the entry (3).


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