With all the (much deserved) hype surrounding Erika M Anderson’s debut album as EMA, Past Life Martyred Saints, it was very much a given that her two London dates last week would be packed affairs. Anderson took to the stage on Thursday night at Cargo sporting a Marilyn-Monroe-as-airbrushed-chola-girl tshirt, her shaggy blonde hair covering her face, determined not to let a self-confessed hangover stop her from hammering out a solid set. Opening rather unexpectedly with a dark, bruisy rendition of ‘Marked’, she followed with her celebrated cover of Danzig’s ‘Soul On Fire’ (“You gotta love the hairy beast!” she grins). The thick, cacophonic hiss present on the album recordings is stripped back a little in the live setting, despite the presence of drums, bass and electric violin behind Anderson’s glitter-star stickered guitar. Though they may have forfeited some of the seething depth that makes the record so mesmerising, the songs lost none of their force, with the “murder ballad” ‘Butterfly Knife’ and a bold, shimmering version of ‘Red Star’ feeling full and cathartic.
Anderson closed her set with signature track ‘California’, putting down her guitar to pull the same shapes she turns out in the engrossing video, before much-loved headliner Scout Niblett arrived on stage looking very much like she’d just come from a building site, sporting a neon orange waistcoat, paint splattered jeans and big, sturdy hiking boots. Her intimate, minimalist blues left the same palpable atmosphere that her records are so widely heralded for, airing many of the best cuts from her 2010 LP The Calcination Of Scout Niblett, most notably the searing title track, ‘Just Do It’, and a glowering rendition of ‘Cherry Cheek Bomb’. Her call for requests was met with a volley of suggestions, including her notorious cover of Althea & Donna’s pop hit ‘Uptown Top Ranking’, which sadly wasn’t obliged. Niblett’s drummer, who she introduced as her son, put down his sticks for a guitar duet or two, including a rather haunting, tender cover of the Paul McCartney & Wings hit ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’.