Kate Nash - Birmingham HMV Institute
Before I stroke my chin over the music of it all, I'd first like to extend my hearty congratulations to the folk behind the brand new Birmingham HMV Institute. The second city gig venue to receive a timely makeover in less than a year, after the Academy pulled its socks up and got a shiny '02' sponsorship in the process, the HMV Institute is being touted as the new jewel in Digbeth's scruffy but oh-so-hip crown. It might face competition from nearby Custard Factory and The Rainbow in terms of club nights but the musical lineup over the next few months is enough to warm us Brummies up this winter. Even better, the HMV tag is just that - upon walking into the place and expecting to see little white doggies plastered on every bare surface or plastic cup, it was satisfying to see that the charm of the former Sanctuary is still there but just a little more quaffed.
Considering the place was originally built as a church, I was interested to see if my first post-refurb gig venture would take on an air of worship. Headline act? Kate Nash. Hmm. Since she ditched potty-mouthed yet rather quaint piano ditties for potty-mouthed yet rather more brash lo-fi girl punk, Nash seems to have lost some of the chart spark: new album My Best Friend is You has failed to capture the masses like debut Made of Bricks. Despite this, while it's not sold out, the room - just the right mix of spacious yet intimate - is full to the brim of young indie girls and their boyfs (or, in some cases, the chaperoning parentals) and not a few older fans, perhaps curious to see if they can still dig on Ms Nash's undoubtedly Marmitean charms. While it might not have been a life-changing or holy experience for me, I'm certainly still diggin'.
Greeted by high-pitched screams, Nash opts for guitar rather than keys for her opening number, the surly and shouty rock 'n' roll drawl of 'I Just Love You More'. It's a bit of a pointless song but, in eschewing any sense of overall aim for 'yeah, I have a boyfriend in the Cribs' attitude, it's fun and presents Kate Nash 2.0 upfront. It's not long before the first incarnation is sat at her keyboard reminding us that she uses mouthwash and likes to drink cups of tea, imbuing the ol' reliables with newfound confidence and not even a hint of a backward-looking cringe. What can I say? She might falter on the lyrics front every now and then (I await 'Don't You Want to Share the Guilt?'s barnstormer 'BBQ food is good' with something akin to physical dread) but I like the gal. She's got balls.
Nash has made no secret of the influences underpinning her second longplayer, namechecking Le Tigre and Bikini Kill among the feminist musical troupes who inspired her new sound. During the shouty-folk celebration of 'Take Me to a Higher Plane', she pulls the whole 'riot grrrl' schtick off just fine, even if it doesn't always convince. The vitriolic spoken-word diatribe that precedes 'Mansion Song's clattering denouement is a little try-hard but points for trying; every expletive is delivered with 100% conviction and the message of empowerment is commendable, considering Nash's younger fans might be more used to watching prozzies get through to boot camp on X Factor.
However, the new guise does mean that, for most of the gig, it feels like we're contending with Nash's dual nature - or, at the very least, an uneasy compromise between songs written by a 19 year-old and songs written by a 23 year-old. It's fitting that, whenever she's behind a guitar strap, she's stood beneath a bit of Blue Peter stage dressing in the form of cardboard rain clouds and a lightning bolt, and yet her keyboard is draped with what appears to be giant bubbles containing light bulbs; clearly, early piano ditties like 'Foundations' and 'Merry Happy' are befitting of something a bit sunnier. She has a band of merry gentlemen helping fill out her sound, and highlights include 'Kiss That Grrrl' and 'Do-Wah-Doo', both 21st century girl interpretations of the '60s girl band text, and the uplifting 'Paris' in all its unabashed romanticism. Nash is likeable throughout, chatting to us about Fashion Week (she slyly dedicates 'Skeleton Song' to malnourished models everywhere) and Roald Dahl, revealing 'Mariella' was inspired by the kiddy Bard himself. She even threatens to usurp her new rock chick image by leading us in a rendition of 'Happy Birthday' to a lass in the crowd. There is dead meat (useless B-sides and early misstep 'Dickhead' particularly whiffy) but, on the whole, this sermon's got back.
The inevitable encore pairs 'Birds', which in 2010 remains by turns chuckle-inducing and tender, with a gloriously ramshackle 'Pumpkin Soup'. The latter is literally a stomping freakout, with Nash jumping on her keyboard by way of goodbye, reminding us that she's all badass now and don't listen to no rules and stuff. The lack of airs is refreshing though, and Kate is nothing if not a charming presence. In fact, maybe this was a wise choice for first gig at the new Institute; if Nash's fierce fervour is any indication, then upcoming gigs at this old church are sure to be a riot.
I Just Love You More / Kiss That Grrrl / Mouthwash / Do-Wah-Doo / Skeleton Song / Take Me to a Higher Plane / Don't You Want to Share the Guilt / Dickhead / Mariella / Later On / Mansion Song / Model Behaviour / Early Christmas Present / R n B Side / Paris / Foundations / Merry Happy // Birds / Pumpkin Soup