She might wear cute outfits and sing songs with titles like “Pumpkin Soup,” but British singer-songwriter Kate Nash’s North American tour kickoff at Toronto’s Mod Club Theatre was pure riot grrrl. Debuting a choppy haircut and an edgy, no-wave sound, Nash told a crowd packed with pretty girls in party dresses that “a cunt is a useful thing.” The response? Sheer and glowing adoration.
Nash’s musical transformation, heard on this year’s bombastic My Best Friend Is You ups the lyrical confessionalism heard on fare from her 2007 debut Made of Bricks like “Foundations” and “Merry Happy” and adds a kiss with a fist. Just listen to the slow synth burn of opener “Paris,” which ricochets to a menacing coda in which Nash scats like Regina Spektor over a boisterous piano solo, crying “You’ll never listen to me!” Even the poppy wall-of-sound single “Doo-Wah-Doo” has an inner meaning to its dissection of a pretty, vapid girl, as Nash brushes off her jealousy: “I’ll just read a book instead.”
After opening sets featuring the Libertines-esque punk rock of Brett Alaimo and the adorable stylings of New York’s teen three-piece Supercute, Nash appeared, trading off between electric guitar and keyboards and backed by an accomplished four-piece band that filled out her songs’ multi-layered sound.
Her quirky stage antics (Nash returned frequent crowd proclamations of “I love you!” by slugging back whiskey and vodka shots) had the audience engaging in a group singalong to “I’ve Got A Secret” (“This song is about homophobic pricks,” she announced). Later, she instructed folks to “Shut your mouths” before playing love song “I Hate Seagulls” — a sublime stream of consciousness take on the necessities of a relationship, in contrast to the singer’s dislike for knits and picking scabs. Standout track “Don’t You Want to Share the Guilt” shared similarities to a Parklife-era Blur, thanks to an extended segment speech-sung over a fuzzy, distorted baseline, in which Nash mused, “I’m not sure about rivers, they scare me.”
But it was the ferocious “Mansion Song” — compared by critics to an outtake by seminal female punk rockers the Slits — that earned Nash her Sassy-stripes. Flushed with delicious explicitness only Liz Phair could compare to, Nash rawly reclaimed her sexuality, whispering, “I fancy the hip rock’n’roll scenester, I wanna be fucked and then rolled over.” Icy post-punk follow-up “I Just Love You More” debuted her Karen O scream — a visceral yelp that’s more than Rock Band ready — that had the aforementioned girls in dresses forming a mosh pit.
Returning for a single encore, Nash brandished a stuffed animal given to her by a fan as she closed with the rakish three-chord punk song “Model Behaviour,” stuttering and moaning into the microphone like a fearless Sex Pistol. Though her adorable image remains intact, Nash is never so captivating as when she concludes the night slurring lines like “You don’t have to suck dick to succeed,” while teetering at the edge of the stage as if deciding whether to jump.
Here’s Kathleen Hanna for Generation Y.
Kate Nash setlist:
4. Kiss That Grrrl
5. Take Me To a Higher Plane
6. Don’t You Want to Share the Guilt
7. I Hate Seagulls
8. I’ve Got a Secret
10. R n’ B-side
11. Merry Happy
12. Later On
14. Mansion Song
15. I Just Love You More
16. Model Behaviour