Last night I watched EMA play at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. I've seen her before and was very much looking forward to another performance.
The first time I saw EMA was last July at Glasslands. The Music Hall of Williamsburg is a bigger venue and likely a reflection of her increased stature and acclaim since then. I enjoyed the show I saw last summer (which also featured opening act Talk Normal) and was curious if the band would be even better. They were. There was a little bit of a lineup shift; previously, Erika's sister played drums. She's now on guitar and she can shred it. I'm kind of expecting her to eventually release her own collection of unbelievable music. Anyways, the new drummer was very solid and the band felt more tight-knit.
The stronger cohesion allowed the group to really bring some power to the already massive songs from Past Life Martyred Saints. With a cool light show from spur-of-the-moment choices ("we need more Disco ball!") and a few strings of ever-changing bulbs (one of which eventually fell victim to Erika's rock star moves of destruction), I felt like I was in the midst of something beyond just a regular rock show. It was a performance in the best sense of the word. The three other players with Erika can all hold their own and really complement her well, but she is absolutely the magnetic center of attention. She rocks out on guitar, she dances and does a variety of moves and gestures, she knows when to be intense and when to scale things back, she just effortlessly always feels in the moment. And she has an easy charm and humor when talking with the crowd, whether it's unveiling her Taz T-Shirt or cracking jokes about her and her sister being like the Allman Brothers. It's everything you want in a great live musician.
The set included every song from Past Life Martyred Saints except "Coda." I thought the combo of "Grey Ship" into "Marked" was awesome. "Milkman" boasted Erika showing off her dance moves and "Butterfly Knife" was perhaps the most theatrical and vivid as a spectacle, with the lights setting the mood and the band bringing it hard. I was most excited about "Red Star," and was swept up in the catharsis of the song as it built to its beautiful release point. B-side "Angelo" made an early set appearance and there were at least 2 songs I didn't know which could have been new. The one Erika performed solo right before set-closer "California" was really amazing and feels like it will be a highlight of her next album if that's where it emerges on record.
If the set was a tour-de-force of rock, then the encore was like a party. This is where "Breakfast" was played, but the real highlight and bulk of the encore was when the drummer from Nu Sensae (whose band opened the night with some blistering loud punk rock) came out to perform several covers with Erika and her drummer. It was light-hearted and fun, almost like a karaoke night. I enjoyed the three songs they did, but since it was "for the crowd, not the bloggers," I'm not going to reveal what those songs were. You can tweet me (@SteveWhoDigs) if you really want to know.
All told, I thought it was a very good show. I know there will be a big break from touring coming for EMA soon, but I will certainly be seeing Erika and company again in the future, whenever that may be.