See Emily Play: The Harley, Sheffield

On such a foreboding night as the ‘Eve of Destruction’, to invoke PF Sloan for a moment, one might look for omens. And for two women to lose their frankly outstanding voices, one following another, strikes me as positively Mayan. If there’s an overriding theme of the evening then, it’s that of adversity. And not of the crap sad piano X-Factor dead kitten kind.

Oxo Foxo is up first, but as she has a cold, her set is curtailed to just four songs. The crowd is still making its way in from a constant downpour as Roo O’Hare takes her wintry boots off to reveal the most Christmassy of socks. Engaging her loop pedal, the clipped, shimmering samples of ‘Blindfolded’ provide an inviting bed on which to lay her woozy, heart-aching melodies. Her hand rides invisible waves as she builds a crescendo of sound, before slowly peeling back each layer. The beauty of the vocals, however, contrasts sharply with the dark subject matter.

Later in the set, the bitter, almost sinister longing that she adds by tweaking the chords of Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ allows it to transcend its kitsch origins and lends it a Lynchian air. It’s a teasingly short yet promising set, which unfortunately she has to halt just as the punters were starting to edge forward.

It’s bumper to bumper by the time See Emily Play take the stage. Emily Ireland resplendent in the spangliest pink, her hair a pinned back beehive. They are here to promote their new, and critically well-received eponymous EP, the profits of which go towards Rape Crisis. Indeed, during the set, she implores us to ‘donate all your money as the world’s gonna end tomorrow!’.

They have borrowed a string quartet for the night, which meant that their sound sits nicely between chamber pop and something more baroque. This only adds to the drama of Ireland’s soulful yet operatic vocals, which she accompanies with deft left-hand arpeggios, on ‘Fair Game’. It is hard to know what to be impressed by more, as both voice and piano skip up and down the scales with ease. The lyrics by themselves might stray into melodrama but they are lent an emotive bite with each confident leap.

The band lose their way a little bit when Ireland leaves the piano stool for an acoustic guitar for the spaghetti-western inflected ‘The First Time Someone Has Ever Broken My Heart’. However, such multi-instrumentalism is a virtue, and it has to be said that they hop genres with ease; the reggae-tinged ‘My Brand New Boy’ sitting comfortably with the sass and descending bassline of ‘A Loner Like Me’.

It would be remiss not to mention the vocal malfunction. While Emily is effervescent throughout, her smile falters a touch as her voice cracks and she has to pause during ‘Memo’. Helpfully a crowd member asks her to ‘just start again!’, and she is visibly buoyed by the audience’s whoops and hollers. Not to mention a drop of whiskey. The band adopt a bunker mentality from thereon in and are fired up as guitarist Tom Ireland jumps in on the high parts. It’s as infectious as the norovirus as the crowd filter out happily, impending doom or otherwise.

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