Don’t be a sucker and miss out on the EMA 2017 experience, even in a shaky live form

On the kind of hideously rainy Manchester night that delivers thumping proof that summer is definitively over, Erika M. Anderson is playing to a a half-full basement at Soup Kitchen; that is to say, about 150 people. You might be minded to blame the weather, but it’s a turnout entirely in line with the way in which the South Dakotan’s intense third LP, August’s ‘Exile in the Outer Ring‘, has been received. Despite unanimous critical praise, it seems doomed to crop up not, as it should, on the best-of lists at the end of the year, but instead in those run-downs that flag up the records you may have missed.

Those articles likely won’t do the album justice and, on early evidence, neither will tonight’s show. EMA – flanked by a drummer and a multi-instrumentalist flitting between guitar, synths and violin – gets off to a decidedly shaky start, with the focus on guitar robbing early cuts ‘I Wanna Destroy’ and ‘The Grey Ship’ of the sort of electronic menace that made them so arresting on record. Unfortunate, too, is the almost total lack of material from ‘The Future’s Void’, her 2014 mission statement that shared a strength of feeling with ‘Exile…’, even if its themes were more abstract.

By the halfway mark, though, Anderson begins to turn it around, and sharply. ’33 Nihilistic and Female’ sounds like what we’d have gotten if Le Tigre had written lyrics that were scorched-earth in their outlook, and ‘California’, which encapsulates ‘Exile’s’ displacement and disarray in microcosm, fizzes with palpable anxiety. As she opens the encore, Anderson relates a similar discomfort at the amount of her songs that reference guns, especially given her homeland’s most recent atrocity. The music that best reflects our turbulent times, though, should always make set its creators ill at ease; that might explain how uneven tonight’s show is.

EMA @ Manchester Soup Kitchen, Wednesday 4 October 2017