Live, Music, Non-Fiction, Reviews

Emma Russack Live to Air review (RRR Performance Space, Melbourne)

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I have been listening to Emma’s album, In a New State, for the last week or two and grown quite fond of her confessional, intimate, lyrical style and minimalist approach.

I went along to the RRR space last night to see how she reproduced it live. These showcase gigs are really quite good at insight into an artist, at an early hour (usually) and without the sticky carpet darkness of our usual, much loved dives. They’re short too, just a compressed half hour of the best stuff.

The band is as minimal as on the disc, Emma on guitar with Liam Halliwell on bass and Cameron Potts on drums.

She launches straight into Cottesloe, and the sound is crisp and clean. Her guitar is bright and clear, floating over the complementary backing. The bass and drums give the songs a bit more kick live, filling the voids left by her whispery, half-spoken words.

The second song is one of the singles from the album, If You Could See Me Now, and “it’s a shout out to all the chicks”. The words remind me of many a conversation with (female) friends. Have You is next. It’s easy to find points of comparison with say Jess Ribeiro, Courtney Barnett and Gabriella Cohen who all sing similarly personal songs over their own guitars. This one lasts barely 90 seconds – “short and sweet as they say”.

Narooma and Best Love are both about where Emma grew up, but as she says, she’s not obsessed with the place of her birth, but herself. Best Love is ironically about the fact that her best experience of love remains the chaste puppy love of her youth. Narooma builds and swells like the surf beaches it’s about, the only really powerful sounding music of the evening.

Another Chance follows and it’s all bass and drums. She pointedly refuses to play the lead licks from the recording and sings along with the backing. It’s a slight change of pace as the bass throbs through and dances around her singing.

Near disaster in the next song, Without Holding On, her guitar lead falls out just as she launches out of the intro into the main body of the song. “Soz, Soz everyone” Stop. Restart. Away again. Barely missed a beat other than her commentary on the mishap.

Emma’s songs are mostly delicate and a bit plaintive. Her final number Wedding Song, is a cappella – more a sung poem than a song in some ways – about the time she was asked to asked to play at her recent ex’s wedding, after he’d always declaimed any interest in commitment. It’s a common theme in songs and writing, and Emma brings it a poignancy as she floats into and away from the mic to punctuate lines.

Her intros and comments are usually ironic and dry, and it’s this tone that permeates her writing. What could sound whiney is deftly undercut by tone and mood. I look forward to seeing her elegiac set again, in divey bar darkness.

You can listen to the podcast of this gig at about ‘2:25:00 here

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