Emmy the Great - The Institute, Birmingham
“Congratulations to you making it here tonight. You are the chosen few, and we are going to repopulate Mars!”
This inclusive welcome begins a jovial evening of acoustic favourites, and newer wider sounding, songs from Emmy the Great’s real-life persona, the charming Emma-Lee Moss. Moss’s dress of plain white: jumper, skirt and trainers, with pleated hair matches the aesthetic of her album Second Love, supported here tonight. The stage is carefully designed: symmetrical postmodern films project around Moss, and plants give a botanical feel in line with her album’s motif of oases in a bothered world.
The set begins familiarly with the solo acoustic ‘The Hypnotist’s Song’ and the layered ‘Dinosaur Sex’, before launching into the new ‘Part of Me’, notably to similar enthusiastic crowd response; Moss’s now less literal lyrics and more electronic sound grabbing people from the start. There's a wide range of styles; the minimalist ‘Hyperlink’ is vocally driven by Moss’s precise voice, but her famous ‘First Love’ is raucously guitar driven, towards the end drowning out this voice. We get a hand gesture later, some expect a sign of the horns here. Local support act O Karmina offers backing vocals to songs including the unbearably lovely ‘Constantly’, joining Moss’s two guitarists and drummer.
Moss charms the audience with tongue-in-cheek anecdotes, including a lengthy description of Lord Elgin’s cultural devastation of her Hong Kong birthplace. Some in the audience wish to share their knowledge back, one offering “I’ve read about that”, replied with a beaming “Have you now? So have I! We can talk about this later, let’s meet up!” All’s taken with intended humour, forming a tangible lead-in to ‘Social Halo’ that warns of losing nuance in the digital age.
The almost 300 capacity room clearly reproduces the range of styles, including ‘Algorithm’’s complicated arrangement with vocals high in the mix. The room's exclusionary metal stage barrier becomes inclusionary to form Moss’s seat as she joins the audience to watch Grace Petrie; lead act unexpectedly seeing her friend in, then eventually plucking her from, the audience is the night’s most endearing moment (“I’ve been trying to communicate something with my eyes to you Grace but it’s not working!”) Petrie’s Billy Bragg style and content is serious but neither her face or voice can stop smiling.
The woozy David Hockney painting-like ‘Swimming Pool’ leads into the request led encore. But, there’s a problem... To series of requests, Moss warmly apologises: “I don’t really do that at the end”, “I can’t do that one, I’m too old”, “That’s a hard one too, are you guys like the rarities team; you are because you made it here!”, before an affirmative “I can do that one... We are saved!” in response to an updated ‘Canopies and Drapes’. But there's no problem, as her respectfully long hour and a half set set concludes with ‘Paper Forest’ from the can’t-do list professionally performed despite some misgivings. For the rarities team!
Moss departs with her hands forming a heart, figuratively describing mutual affection between band and audience. The anecdote at the top of this piece refers to her misreporting of stage times via Twitter (“I know I told everyone a set time that was one hour and fifteen minutes later than it actually was. Then for fun I tweeted a second set time that was fifteen minutes earlier.”). Maybe not the chosen few but a special night. Now, let’s repopulate Mars!
The Hypnotist’s Song
Part of Me
We Almost Had a Baby
Less Than Three
Dance w Me
Lost in You
Farewell to Welfare (performed by Grace Petrie)
Canopies and Drapes