Erika M. Anderson brought her EMA project – a California-based, electro-punk act – to the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto a couple of weeks ago and, as energetic and engrossing as the performance was, I’m afraid I must begin with a negative. Though my gripe is not with the band, rather it is with the restlessness of the majority of the audience. It’s one of the worst I’ve experienced at a show. Rarely did a few minutes pass without someone either talking during a quieter part of the set or else removing their phone from their pocket to temporarily block my view or to check the status of their online world.
Quite ironic given the subject matter of most of EMA’s recent release, The Future’s Void. The meta-irony of watching people, literally two yards away from her, taking some shitty, grainy footage they will be lucky to remember to watch back once as Anderson leaned over the front of the stage, crooning back ‘There should be a law about it/When they can take videos of you’.
Even in writing this article I am aware that I am risking a charge of hypocrisy by partaking in some similar lets-document-this-online nonsense. Moreover, that picture you see above that I took, I captured during the same song as the above line is taken, “3Jane”. I was too self-conscious to take another one that wasn’t blurry.
Despite these annoyances, my own (likely unjust) neurosis, and the disgusting couple that were doing some sort of horrendous sex dance throughout the entire gig, even during songs about self-harm and abuse, EMA and her band put on a fully-charged display after slowly building up to opener “Satellite” through the distinct effect-laden violin of Leif Shackelford.
It is the visceral emotion of this and Shackelford’s other eerie electronics that lay the basis for most of the songs, with the band sometimes switching to a more traditional band set up and veering even further towards Anderson’s previous days in punk bands.
As well as plenty material from the new record there were epic versions of “Butterfly Knife” and “Marked” from 2011’s Past Life Martyred Saints, displaying Anderson and her band’s ability to allow their songs to evolve beyond their studio recording. Something I‘d like to see more artists do.
The performance was not without its flaws. One or two of the new songs, most notably “So Blonde”, didn’t quite translate as well live, and there appeared to be a couple of occasions where Anderson became visibly frustrated with one of her band members. I was also slightly disappointed that we weren’t treated to a version of “The Grey Ship”, but that’s a minor criticism.
Even so, EMA put on one of the better performances I’ve seen so far this year, packed with enough emotion and dynamism to keep me engaged throughout. It certainly wasn’t a mark against the quality of the show that some of the other attendees couldn’t seem to focus their attention.