To me Kate Nash has always seemed like an intriguing character; capable of veering in the blink of an eye between scary, sweary banshee and saccharine-sweet girl next door. As I made my way up the packed spiral staircase of Hare & Hounds in Birmingham two days before the release of her second album, I was entirely unsure what to expect. Soon though, Nash’s support act & apparent close friend Brigitte Aphrodite took to the stage. “That’s my real name, it’s Greek…I’m not a complete pretentious twat”, she explained immediately. Good move. This got laughs all round, and the inevitable pre-gig tension in the air was dispelled.
Now obviously, making such a good first impression is extra-important if you’re a relatively unknown support act; but even more so when your style is mostly that of a manically nervous comedian, playing up to all their eccentricities. Aphrodite’s tunes play a very distant second fiddle to her lyrics, most of which strongly suggest that comedy really is the crux of what she does. In this respect, she doesn’t always hit the mark – Prepe Love is just irritating, especially when the microphone’s turned up slightly too loud – but she certainly comes out with the odd lyrical gem. Most notably, she casually mentions an urge to pull out her veins and floss her teeth with them, and claims “I used to masturbate over Kitt from Knight Rider”. Pretty special. She’s likeable, in a very brash, oddball way, and occasionally shows a real talent for observational humour, when she’s not being utterly bizarre for the sake of it. (Having looked up her music online after the gig, unfortunately I’d say she left her funniest song out of the set – Streets of Bromley is an inspired & evocative tale of scuzzy, misspent youth).
And so to the main event. Nash enters stage right, dressed to kill (more on that later, not that she actually kills anyone) and opens with a new song, Paris. It’s very impressive. Insistent, almost locomotive drums, heavy on the toms, vie for attention with a tune that’s as plaintive as it is majestic & grandiose. Evidently though, the audience haven’t quite warmed up yet – for all the wild applause at the end, the crowd atmosphere during the song seemed unfairly subdued. As soon as the song ends, and the ovation dies down, we get a faux-stern telling-off from Kate, who orders us en masse to dance, crowd-surf, buy her drinks…I like her already. Unfortunately though, in hindsight, I doubt anything short of tear gas could really have stirred things up in that mundane crowd; a great shame, because I’d say a lot of her songs are tailor-made for dancing.
That’s not to say they lack substance, though. Oh no. Actually, everything about her seems more mature. Gone are the big dress-up dresses and the mad cascade of her bright red hair – for Saturday’s gig, she wore a black leather jacket over a white T-shirt, and her feline facial features were framed by a stark blunt fringe. She looks sexy in a much more clinical, formidable way now, like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. Anyway, back to the music. Yes, she still writes songs about relationships, jealousy and the like; she’s still pretty volatile when she wants to be; and her lyrics still have moments of sheer silliness, for better or worse.
However, her usual themes are now complemented by a few accomplished forays into other related subjects, like the utterly brilliant ‘I’ve Got A Secret’; a song about homophobia, and one of several which show a harder rock’n’roll edge to Nash’s new sound. Revelling in spaced-out synths, monstrously fuzzy guitar, and a tempo which just does whatever it damn well pleases, it’s a triumph of seething atmospheric intensity over conventional songwriting. And then there’s the already-notorious ‘Mansion Song’, half of which is taken up by an increasingly furious monologue about sexism and women’s integrity. Again, atmosphere is key – howling guitar feedback and thundering, ominous drums seem just as important as words in articulating Kate’s raw vitriol.
I mean, it’s not like she’s suddenly joining Pig Destroyer or something, but there’s been a really noticeable shift towards the big bad world and away from innocence in Kate Nash’s sound and image. If the description of her new look gave the impression that she’s also become more fame-conscious, however, that’s certainly not how she comes across. I’d say she’s a punk, actually, in the purest sense of the word; she’s got bags of attitude, she makes no effort to suppress her various quirks, and she doesn’t look like toning things down for anyone in the foreseeable future. Better still, she’s continuing to mess around with pre-conceptions about songwriting. Even ‘Do Wah Doo’, the ludicrously upbeat & fiendishly catchy first single from My Best Friend Is You, contains only one verse. How often do you see that?
It’s just a shame, as I say, that the audience on the night weren’t up to much. Admittedly, certain songs just aren’t made for audience participation, like ‘Mansion Song’, and Kate herself spent most of them sitting down; but that’s hardly her fault, since she was playing the piano. No, I think she overcame that unfortunate crowd shyness (I’d stop short of ‘apathy’ because they rapturously applauded after every song) and put on a damn good show. Clearly, she’s not the most polished performer or the most natural entertainer; she’s just an instantly likeable, seemingly very genuine person who does her own thing & pulls no punches. Surely mainstream music needs far, far more of those.
My Best Friend Is You is out now on Polydor. You can stream the album now from Spotify.