By Michael Lello
Photos by Emily Garcia
PHILADELPHIA – It was impossible to ignore Kate Nash at Union Transfer. Whether she was bopping through a plucky pop number, unleashing her inner riot grrrl or dancing in the crowd and pulling fans onstage, the British songstress was the center of attention last Thursday, and she thrived in the spotlight during the entirety of her performance.
Nash’s relatively high-production set began with projected clips from “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” and the strains of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” her band members entering the stage one by one, before the star of the show strapped on a bass, took the spotlit center stage and kicked into “Sister,” from this year’s “Girl Talk” album. It worked well as an opener, growing more energetic from its ballad-y introduction into an almost unhinged, stream-of-consciousness-esque blast.
Nash continued with more “Girl Talk” tunes, including the bass-heavy and dark “Death Proof” and “All Talk.” “You have a problem with me/ ’Cause I’m a girl?/ I’m a feminist/ And if that offends you/ Then fuck you,” she sang in “All Talk,” feeding into the female-empowerment message she espoused throughout the set. “Yeah, I got your attention,” she sang at the song’s end. Indeed.
While confrontational songs are part of Nash’s catalog, it’s the fun and syrupy throwback tunes that have been her big hits, and up next was one of them, “Kiss That Girl,” from her fantastic 2010 second album, “My Best Friend Is You.” The upbeat and bouncy number reeled in any crowd members that might not have been in love with the earlier, acerbic tunes in the set. As on the recorded version, the song included an arresting, dynamic moment, when the song quieted to just Nash and a guitar, singing the chorus, before barreling back into the full song.
Another such song, “Do-Wah-Doo,” also from “My Best Friend Is You,” followed. Nash stalked the stage without an instrument, offering her more freedom to interact with the audience, but if there was any doubt that she wasn’t connecting, she ran into the crowd, bouncing, dancing and singing for the rest of the song, which was one of the evening’s high points. While it was expected that she’d return to the stage for the next number, she performed “OHMYGOD!,” in the audience as well. The song is an irresistible confection, but it was taken to a higher level with Nash singing and dancing with fans. “I think we know each other better now,” she said, returning to the stage.
Nash and her band – which includes ripping lead guitarist Linda Buratto – progressed through songs like the wordy “Mariella,” from Nash’s 2007 debut “Made of Bricks,” the jumpy latest single “Fri-end?” and the delightful “Made Of Bricks” song “Foundations” – which hit No. 2 in the U.K. before she turned 20 and she introduced as “kind of where it all began.”
While Nash’s girl power must be empowering to its intended audience – and this reviewer is not part of that group – when a musician gives an on-stage speech, no matter the content, it can often sap the energy from a show, and unfortunately, that was the case during the latter part of Thursday’s set. What started as an interesting talk about Nash’s after-school programs in England meandered into a way-too-long motivational speech that just made us want her to play more songs. Which she did, but after what seemed like a 20-minute buzzkill.
Appropriately, Nash then performed “Girl Gang,” her updated cover of Fidlar’s “Cocaine,” ending in a swarm of buzzy feedback, before pulling fans onstage. The show spiraled into an energetic free-for-all, with opening act singer Kelli Mayo taking the mic and Nash helping more than 10 fans, one by one, crowd surf back into the audience. Nash herself then crowd surfed into the audience, worked her way back to the stage, hugged the remaining on-stage fans and disappeared before the encore.
A roadie brought out keyboards for the first time – somewhat surprising considering the prominent piano in Nash’s music, especially her earlier material – for one song, “Merry Happy,” the closing track on her debut. It was a tender comedown after the riotous closing of the proper set, and a dramatic sendoff after a riveting show, complete with a pretty piano outro.
The night was opened by the aforementioned Oklahoma-based Skating Polly, made up of young stepsisters Mayo, only 13, and Peyton Bighorse, 17, and La Sera, fronted by Katy Goodman of Vivian Girls. Skating Polly’s sound might best be described as abrasive, with Mayo’s screeching vocals cutting through slabs of heavy punk rock. While there were catchy moments in Skating Polly’s set, there weren’t enough of them to make it consistently appealing.
La Sera, by contrast – and expectedly, factoring in the band’s veteran status compared to Skating Polly’s – was taut and exciting, a mix of Vivian Girls/Best Coast breezy California garage rock and more complex and dark numbers. “Running Wild” was poppy and heavy at the same time, with Goodman tossing her long hair while thumping out bass lines. Other highlights including “Devils Hearts Grow Gold,” the trippy “Please Be My Third Eye” (“This is a song about telepathy. It’s an invitation to you to enter my brain,” Goodman said) and the airy “Never Come Around.” The songs were well-crafted and performed with enough skill and energy that you did not need to be familiar with the material to enjoy it, which is a high compliment, especially for a band most attendees were not there to see.