There was a moment last night at Johnny Brenda’s when British singer Kate Nash laid it all out for the crowd. “I’m living just for me and not for what you might write about my hair and body,” she grunted into the mic, during punchy new number “Oh.” It was a true rock star moment: silver lights rotating around her, her voice permeating a fog of feedback. If you had never heard of Nash before, you would have sworn she was the next Kathleen Hanna, or Karen O.: strong, actualized rockers, with powerful voices and stage presence. And you’d be right.
But for a star in the spotlight as much as Nash, a British pop idol since age 19, when she was discovered by Lily Allen via Myspace and her single “Foundations” landed at number 2 on the British charts—it’s almost impossible to consider anything about Kate without automatically being reminded of the whole history of Kate. But she isn’t letting that stop her, as “Oh” made clear.
But let’s back up. After serendipitously landing in the spotlight eight years ago, Nash warmed the hearts of millions with witty piano charmers about mean girls and bad dates. Her first two records, Made of Bricks and My Best Friend Is You, charted high in Britain, even as some critics dismissed her as childish and cutesy. Then, over the next few years, Nash grew up. She ditched her signature red hair and bangs for a sleeker, dyed black do’, and started writing tunes more influenced by punk and post-punk. She was dropped from her label, and turned to fans to fund her new record, Girl Talk, via Kickstarter. For her current tour, she eschewed the enormous venues she booked previously, choosing to play small, intimate spots instead. The media was quick to criticize such decisions as insincere, or unfitting. But the appeal of Kate Nash has never been her hair, or her record label, and that’s why “Oh” felt like such a big “screw you.” The appeal of Kate Nash has always been…Kate Nash, a smart, charming, and yes, bad-ass woman, with an inestimable ability to capture moments and feelings in song. Last night, this woman came to play at Johnny Brenda’s, and everybody left fulfilled.
“My voice is a bit f***** up right now, I almost didn’t want to play,” admitted the songstress cradling a cup of tea, about 20 minutes in. “But you know what? Let’s have a good f****** night anyway!” The crowd cheered emphatically, and Kate smiled. Positive energy flowed, and as the evening continued, Nash—who started off a bit flat—eased into a charming performance that left even the stoic guys in the crowd (dragged to the show by their girlfriends no doubt) smiling and clapping along.
She began her set with a trio of songs off Girl Talk, her all-girl backing band providing swaggering guitar grooves for the moody “Death Proof” and shredding riffs for the angst-y “All Talk.” Friend track “Kiss That Girl” was reimagined with intense bass jamming, while “Foundations”—previously a lush, piano number—got the rock star treatment, Nash taking over guitar duties and wailing into the mic emphatically.
Pussy Riot tribute “Free My Pussy” was a fun highlight, Nash shrieking and meowing with fury—while Bricks tune “Mariella” inspired some very fun theatrics, and a number four jump to cap it off. But the performance really hit its stride in the final half hour, with wily, capricious Friend track “Don’t You Want To Share the Guilt” transitioning into grrrl power rap, “Rap for Rejection”—transitioning into an absolutely powerful, acoustic rendition of “You’re So Cool, I’m So Freaky,” Nash’s voice cracking on the refrain: “You’re so cool, and I’m a waste of space.” She might not craft witty ditties about cute jerks anymore, but Nash’s ability to capture every day emotion in song remains unparalleled.
Nash closed her set with a solo take of one of her very first Myspace singles, “Birds,” the crowd screaming the refrain as if it contained catharsis. The encore saw a similarly stripped down version of early single “We Get On,” Nash’s face revealing every painstaking detail in the story of the girl who fell in love, only to have her heart broken. Just because she doesn’t write about cute jerks anymore doesn’t mean she won’t still sing about them. After all, she’s still the same Kate that first charmed Myspace eight years ago—she’s just a little older, a lot more confident, and a lot more mature. And if you have a problem with that…well, Kate doesn’t really care.
Kiss That Girl
I’m a Feminist, You’re Still a Whore
Free My Pussy
Don’t You Want to Share the Guilt?
Rap for Rejection
You’re So Cool, I’m So Freaky
We Get On
Teenage, NYC, bubblegum pop foursome Supercute! opened the show, living up to their name with sweet, ukulele-tinged pop tunes and lush choral harmonies. Front woman Rachel Trachtenburg resembled a fairy wood nymph with her pink tights and floral crown, but proved sassy and street smart as well, particularly on closer “Cat Call” where she announced “I’m walking through my hood, and I’m looking f***** good.” The band’s debut record, DON’T PoP MY BUBBLE, was produced by Nash, and will drop this summer—we expect fun, summer romps from a new band just beginning to find its voice.
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