Kate Nash, it turns out, is fucking punk rock. Yes, the Kate Nash with a single called "Merry Happy," the one with the dress-up music videos and glossy studio singles. An understandable first glance might lead you to believe she is all wink and flirt.
Over the course of an hour and a half, Nash provided plenty of reasons to rethink the overall emotional pitch of her music. The show ended with Nash knocking things over and mashing her keyboard with her fists. She was playing "Pumpkin Soup" at the time, which does not really sound like a rager on the album.
The difference live is that she doesn't just play these songs. She relives them. Many musicians are capable of screwing up their faces while singing, and plenty of those are probably really bearing the emotional weight of their art. But Kate Nash has the unique ability to convey characters and nuance and entire narrative arcs in three minute songs.
The best example of how all this works was during the song "Birds." A straight reading of the lyrics gets you this: Girl goes to meet boy at train station, boy compliments girl, girl doesn't understand, girl can't articulate her feelings, the end. Pretty patriarchal. But live, she puts a pause after each of the boy's long-winded, fanciful pontifications on his girl's beauty. And then she says the girl's line ("What?") with a look on her face that doesn't say, "I don't understand," but rather "you're insane."
Thereby does the entire meaning of the song change. At the end, when the girl says "I like you too," it's domination rather than submission. He's just spent three verses using birds in the sky and "all the matter in the world" to try and express himself, and she comes back with Hemingway.
If that seems like an over-reading of what is after all still a pop song about young love, it's because Nash set it up to be seen as something more by preceding it with "Mansion Song," a feminist spoken word piece of such (justified) vitriol it's hard to believe you're hearing it out of an alleged mainstream pop singer.
Part of the reason Kate Nash gets categorized the way she does is that she writes catchy music that sounds incredibly chipper. But doo-woops do not necessarily imply happiness, and it helps going in to know that her favorite band of all time is The Buzzcocks. And that she walked off stage to "Violet" by Hole.
Opener Peggy Sue is not nearly as likely to be misconstrued as upbeat. The trio uses two floor toms and a lower vocal range to ensure a dour tone throughout. Think: Vivian Girls but less meticulously lo-fi.
Dual frontwomen Katy Klaw and Rosa Rex exchanged the night's best bit of banter late in their set when someone in the crowd yelled something in response to their announcement that this was their first visit to Colorado. Klaw said, "Did someone just say, 'What the fuck?'" to which Rex responded, "I think he said, 'Welcome.'"
Laughter ensued, and then Klaw said, by way of introducing the next song, "This hasn't set the tone properly. Everybody frown."
The highlight of Peggy Sue's very good set was "The Sea, The Sea."
Click through for Critic's Notebook and Setlist
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I might have described Kate Nash as harmless before this show. If I accomplish nothing else here, I hope to convey that calling her harmless is an amazingly grave undersell. By the Way: Exceptionally bookish crowd. Nothing near a sellout, but the people who did come were about as enthusiastic as it is possible to be. Random Detail: Nash tossed a bunch of pamphlets into the crowd after the encore. I didn't get one, but from glancing at someone else's, it looked like a bunch of poetry printed on computer paper and hand folded. Also, Nash highly recommends Olivea, where she went for dinner.
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Kate Nash 11.06.10 | Ogden Theatre Denver, CO.
Do-Wah-Doo Mouthwash Kiss That Grrrl Take Me To A Higher Plane Don't You Want To Share The Guilt? I Hate Seagulls Skeleton Song Mariella Later On Mansion Song Birds Early Christmas Present R&B Side Paris Foundations Merry Happy
I Just Love You More Pumpkin Soup