Kate Nash/Metronomy/Dockers MC @ Birmingham Irish Centre, 9/11/07

I’d never been to the Irish Club before and it was nothing like I expected. If anything it looked like a school hall, only one with a bar on the right-hand side of it. It was probably the murals on the walls that did it but the place is carpeted too which doesn’t tally with my expectations for a proper gig venue – it wasn’t even sticky. Anyway, I missed the first act, Natty, but arrived just in time to catch the end of Dockers MC, a young poet who seemed to be doing a decent job of entertaining the crowd down the front, even if the rest of the crowd were chatting away noisily. What’s not to love about poets as extra support acts? I don’t want to reduce their art to filler but a few well chosen spoken words are a great way to keep the entertainment flowing between bands.

The next act in a pretty eclectic line-up was Metronomy. Unfortunately their knack of almost coming up with a decent tune only to ruin it with yet another over-complicated and unsuited synth riff got boring very quickly. I’d been looking forward to seeing them and spent the first few songs trying to like them but in the end I was worn down by the awfulness of it all. If I was being generous (or making excuses for them) I’d say that maybe they weren’t suited to the surroundings – I could see them working a lot better in a dark little club after midnight, rather than a slightly over-lit community hall at 8pm.

Now, Kate Nash. Unfortunately I feel like I have to set my stall out early on this one. There’s been talk of some sort of backlash against the strongly-accented London-based youngsters who’ve sprung up over the past year. Frankly I’m having none of it. If you want general scene-creating/bashing piss off and read the NME. I’m not saying you have to like them all (God knows I don’t), you don’t have to like Kate Nash but I do and I resent feeling defensive about it.

Still here? Good. Actually there’s something else that feels odd about tonight and I took a while to realise it was the crowd. I suppose I was expecting a lot of girls in vintage dresses (and there were a few) but more striking is the number of blokes in the audience. It was also the sort of crowd I don’t tend to come across very often – a ‘pop crowd’ with a fair number turning up to hear the singles and chat obliviously through the rest of the show.

Anyway, tripping onstage to a backing track of album opener (and surely Garth from Waynes’ World referencing) Play the diminutive Miss Nash takes her place at a small piano facing the crowd, prompting the audience to take to their toes and peer to get a glimpse. First track Mariella is a great showcase of what she’s about, apparently inspired by this Tim Burton short. It starts inauspiciously but finds a piano refrain to build on, picks up speed and progresses into a compelling little character study, impressively sung and set to a backing of changing tones and rhythms.

Undeniable highlights were a swinging Skeleton Song a touching version of Nicest Thing and the sadly defiant We Get On. Throughout most of the set Kate seems a little pent up, like she’s a forcing a confident air through the shyness.

The crowd-pleasers arrive towards the end of the set and finally grabbed the attention of the top 40 parts of the crowd; Foundations and Mouthwash sparking dancing creditable enough that, having built the audience up nicely, Kate kills the burgeoning atmosphere with a long off-mic conversation about who in the crowd should get an award for being the best dancer. Nevermind, eh?

The problem, I think, is that the sort of chart success Kate has had doesn’t quite suit her. There’s more of the lo-fi, home-baked artist about her than the chart-topping popstar –witness the little fanzine she made and stops the show to hand out. Sure, some of her songs are mind-fuzzingly inane (Mouthwash) and some are just not very good (Dickhead, thankfully not played, and Shit Song).

What saves her (for me at least) is she’s occasionally able to catch a conversation or internal monologue just right and she can tell a story too. I’ve not heard anyone else covering the same sort of lyrical content – she’s captured the character of the gauche, lovelorn young girl character from a few angles already and she’s got a fertile and fun imagination to balance her tales of the day to day. Basically, although she’s not turning out 100% gold yet there’s more than enough for me to want to stick with her to see what else she’ll do.

The show is closed with an encore of Little Red, performed alone at the piano before the band return for Pumpkin Song and it’s only at the end that Kate lets go. With the band building to a cacophonous peak she hammers at her piano with her head thrown back and a joyous smile lights up her face.

Published by Chris Unitt

I work at One Further, doing digital projects with cultural organisations. Follow @ChrisUnitt or find me on LinkedIn.