fri 01/03/2024

Emmy the Great, Pleasance, Edinburgh | reviews, news & interviews

Emmy the Great, Pleasance, Edinburgh

Emmy the Great, Pleasance, Edinburgh

The growing pains of Emma-Lee Moss lack a little drama

The virtuous Emma-Lee Moss takes the cake

“Are there any freshers in the audience?" asked Emma-Lee Moss halfway through last night’s set. Two voices raised a muted cheer. Whatever else your average 18-year-old might have been doing, cut loose from the apron strings for the first time in the capital city on a Friday night, they were unlikely to be listening to music this polite and well behaved. Or so you’d hope.

She may be less widely heralded than Laura Marling, but both women have recently been doing their utmost to transcend the creative straitjacket of middle-class nu-folk girls-with-guitars. This, oddly, has left Moss's music craving an injection of drama. Where her 2009 debut First Love was all fuzzy first fumblings, littered with sex, shared cigarettes, late-night taxis, drug dilemmas and might-be love, her second, Virtue, released earlier this year, is dense, opaque and mythopoetic, full of “all this questioning” on matters of loss, religion and emotional turmoil.

Yes, it's accomplished and elegantly crafted, but a little lacking when it comes to the youthful energy and in-your-face fireworks that defined First Love. The same could be said of last night's concert. Moss moved through the gears from a rather stiff start (a chilly solo “Eastern Maria") to hit something like a groove (“Iris” brought the first evidence of crackle and crunch), but the set only really transmitted real heat towards the end. It arrived with an easy, sparky cover of Weezer’s “Island in the Sun”, which was - and I don’t say this lightly - one of the night’s few direct hits. 

She played most of Virtue without attempting any acts of alchemy. The album’s best songs - the pretty, flowing “Cassandra”, the climbing “Exit Night“, the poppy “Iris” - retained their grace, mystery and emotive punch, while the less successful tracks - such as “Dinosaur Sex”, with its clunky metaphors and queasy major-minor structure - failed to reveal any hitherto veiled charms.

The four accompanying musicians, which included guitarist Euan Hinshelwood and a girl in a polka-dot dress playing an Apple Mac (she also added keyboards and the weediest backing vocals in the world), were most effective on the churning, REM-like “Creation”, but sometimes seemed superfluous to requirements. They occasionally swamped Moss’s strong, unfussy, rather old-fashioned voice. Shot through with a folky quaver, its direct, very English tone was most effective when given a little elbow room.

She seemed eager to dispense with “We Almost Had a Baby” – her breakthrough tale of teenage sex and the perils of the withdrawal method set to a modern doo-wop lilt – almost as though desiring to say goodbye to childish things, but in fact the First Love material has weathered well: “Mia”, “The Easter Parade” and the title track all benefited from their meatier arrangements.

Overall this was a very accomplished performance of a bunch of very good songs. Everyone - on stage and off - seemed to be having a fine time. There was even some mildly amusing banter between Moss and Hinshelwood which managed to move from Larry David to the Teletubbies to fisting with indecent haste. But did we leave - in the words of “Paper Forest” - “standing in the afterglow of rapture”? No, not quite. It would be a shame if Moss took the title of her new album too much to heart. 

The band occasionally swamped Moss’s strong old-fashioned voice. Its direct English tone was most effective when given a little elbow room


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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