“I’ve gotta bring out the guitar, and I’ve gotta bring out the wild animal,” EMA announced two songs into her set at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday. The animal she was referring to turned out to be the grinning Looney Tune Taz on her t-shirt, but by the end of the 90-minute set the same words could aptly describe Erika herself.
Before EMA unleashed her inner animal, though, the MHoW was well agitated with low-fi energy. First opener of the night Nu Sensae, a three-piece punk dynamo from Vancouver who opened many of EMA’s recent shows, played a solid and sweaty set of instant-gratification rock, shedding shirts and swigging beer for a fierce 40 minutes. Brooklyn’s dark minimalist duo Talk Normal, forged from drummer Andrya Ambro and guitarist Sarah Register (also a credited sound engineer who mastered EMA’s debut Past Life Martyred Saints), filled the show’s middle slot. A single red bulb clipped to Register’s mic stand made the duo appear like spirits manifested in the glow of a netherworld Kenny Rogers chicken roaster, and gave their brief set an undeniable attraction. Ambro and Register traded vocal duties that ranged from sweet to spooky, rising ghostly and indecipherable above the steady plod of drum kicks and reverb-drenched rhythm. By 11 pm, the stage front and elevated drum platform were each sufficiently strung with proscenium arcs of frosted glass lanterns, and EMA was ready to rock.
EMA’s website tags this tour as the last to focus on material from Past Life Martyred Saints, and the set leaned heavy on that dark, noisy poetry. After a dreamy viola intro led by Leif Shackelford, the seven-minute album starter “Gray Ship” saw Erika unleashing her inner Taz, pounding out the concluding power chords with hair-flailing fury. The set alternated between moments of ferocity and vulnerability, proving Erika is just as comfortable with the rhythmic “Polly“-esque creep of “Anteroom” as the soft, panting soliloquy “Marked.” Erika was keen to direct the lighting engineer to achieve the right ambience for each song, alternately employing the disco ball (“our magical best friend”) or turning the panoply of dangling lanterns green to match the beautiful boy’s eyes in “Red Star.” Near the end of the set Erika sang the first verse of Mister Heat Miser’s theme from the ’70s stop-motion The Year Without Santa Claus in a dulcet, breathy croon while the booming, broken heartbeat of “California” kicked in behind her. EMA’s gun-toting anthem against West Coast pretension (opening line: “Fuck California. You made me boring.”) invigorated the cheering crowd. While she stomped around the stage spitting out bitter lyrics, Erika wrapped her microphone cable around her neck, kicked over a mic stand (onto a front-row dancer, to whom she quickly leaned in and apologized with a caress of his hair. Worth it.) and smashed one of the overhead lanterns, first with her microphone, then by dashing its jagged remains against the stage floor. “I’m sorry if I almost killed anybody,” she apologized before disappearing backstage before the encore.
Back after a tender “Breakfast” duet with her sister/guitarist Nicole (who also played drums on Martyred Saints), Erika called out Nu Sensae drummer Daniel Pitout to continue a tradition they apparently started in Cleveland of becoming a “drunk jukebox” to end the set. The duo played Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” before laughing through the opening, not-entirely-memorized verse of “Crimson and Clover.” The giddy duo nailed the finale with Hole’s “Miss World,” spreading some Love love and stoking the most sing-along participation in the audience since “California.” “If you can’t stand this song, then you can leave,” Erika forewarned while tuning up her guitar.
“If you can’t stand this song, you SHOULD leave,” added Daniel.