Live: Well-Mannered Hype-Child Kate Nash

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Must eat so many lemons

Kate Nash + Salt & Samovar
Bowery Ballroom
January 9, 2008

The press was on the lookout for a new Lily Allen even before the actual Allen got herself knocked up by the short-haired Chemical Brother, probably putting herself out of commission for a while. And in a lot of ways Kate Nash fits the new-Allen bill nicely: pretty young girl, wears dresses, sings funny and biting and finely observed lyrics about asshole exes, is big on MySpace, has an endorsement from the actual Allen. But where Allen's sneer is prominent that Nick Sylvester tagged her as "bitch-pop," Nash's default mode is an open-hearted sigh. Even when she sings about falling-apart relationships and drunk-asshole boyfriends, she's drippy and forgiving, totally ready to stay in these go-nowhere relationships. On "Foundations," her sparkling British hit, that forlorn helplessness comes off sympathetic, but I still inevitably feel like telling her to snap out of it and move on, an impulse I never feel with Allen. Another point of divergence: Allen has beats, big sunny ska-pop stompers that smartly highlight her breezy snark. Made of Bricks, Nash's debut album that's now seeing American release (smartly timed for a week when absolutely nothing else is going on) is full of overcompressed and generic Starbucks-pop, tracks that flatten her idiosyncrasies rather than acting as vehicles for them. Last night at the Bowery Ballroom, Nash's big record-release show skewed way more coffeehouse than I was expecting. Way more drama-nerd, too.

Nash walked onstage last night to incidental music from The Wizard of Oz, and the crowd treated her like she was the star of a high-school play: cheering her opening notes, bellowing encouraging half-heckles. Nash is young (20), and she seemed even younger onstage. She was flinchy and hesitant, rarely singing directly into the mic and turning giggly between songs. Her best songs are big and clean and catchy, but her voice could be a bit thin and unconvincing in person, and it was sometimes hard to make out the lyrics that are one of her main selling points. In the recent flood of American-press coverage she's received, she's been quick to downplay the Allen comparisons she hate, pointing out instead the influence of guttural NY piano-chick Regina Spektor. And parts of last night's show veered into straight-up Spektor-biting: she pounded out clanging keyboard lines, gave her lines intensely quirky readings, and even grunted and cawed just like Spektor. She's a gifted and smart pianist, building from simple figures to busy, discordant climaxes, but her thoroughly nondescript backing band threatened to drown her work in boring. And when she switched from keyboard to acoustic guitar for a while in the middle of the set, she came perilously close to killing her own momentum. As amateur as her show could be, though, I still found myself rooting for her. Her relationship songs are totally affecting and likable in part because she's just a kid, and I totally believe her when she sings a relationship's decline like it's the worst thing that's ever happened to her. And even if she still has plenty of bad ideas (there's "Skeleton Song," for instance, about her skeleton friend), she's also a sharp and winning songwriter, and she knows her way around a melody. And she clearly loves to be onstage, something I can't say about Lily Allen. Nash has got a long way to go before she scans as anything other than cute, but I'm reasonably confident that she'll get there.

Voice review: Ian Mathers on Kate Nash's Made of Bricks

Because of their terrible name and because the three male members of the band came out rocking matching vests, I was worried that openers Salt and Samovar would be on some Decemberists shit. Instead, they were a pleasant little surprise, a charged-up garage-blooz band that made up for being totally willfully retrograde with hooks and spirit, with bonus points for "whoo-whoo" backing vocals. They work Americana signifiers hard, going so far as to cover Hank Williams's "Ramblin' Man," but they do it the way British bands do; I was genuinely surprised to hear them speaking in American accents between songs. Their Stonesy choogle-struts are more Give Out But Don't Give Up-era Primal Scream than actual Stones, and their cheeseball glam stomp is more Placebo than T. Rex. And if the songs on their MySpace are any indication, they're way more apt to push unconvincing dustbowl chic than they are to actually rock out the way they did last night. But even with all those strikes against them, they were messy and chaotic and fun enough to steal the show away from the headliner. NME is going to love these kids.

Voice review:
Buzz Poole on Salt & Samover's Old Joy New Joy


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