Committing career suicide?
Kate Nash - Live At The Boileroom, Guildford

After the relative commercial failure of her second album, ‘My Best Friend Is You’, in 2010, attention on Kate Nash’s tour to promote her forthcoming third record was unlikely to be high amongst all but the die-hards. However, that’s before promotional single, ‘Under-Estimate The Girl’, appeared online a couple of weeks back. A fearsome, in-your-face track with impassioned screams and layer upon layer of distortion, it showcased a hitherto unexplored side of Nash’s persona, and divided fans and critics alike.

Any wonderings that this grunge explosion would be a one-off were dispelled from the moment Nash and her all-female band launched into the opening track. It was an uncompromising, punky assault with hard riffing and confrontational lyrics (“You got a problem with me? / I’m a feminist / And if that offends you / Then fuck you”). This set the template for the majority of the gig, with Nash and her band rocking out, while most of the audience looked slightly bemused, wondering what had happened to the cute girl with the glottal stops who sang ‘Foundations’. Indeed, as the evening progressed, the venue became noticeably less busy, with a small number of people making their dissatisfaction known by voting with their feet.

So, is Kate Nash committing career suicide? It certainly looks that way, but it also brings about an interesting conundrum. With a few notable exceptions, people don’t take kindly to artists making such explicit volte-face. However, the salad days of angry female rockers and riot grrrl seem like a long time ago, and there’s definitely a place for such a defiant, gutsy feminist figure who can take on the androcentric rock establishment on her own terms. Given Nash’s status as a singer with a number one album and a BRIT Award to her name, it’s an exceptionally brave move, and one that should be applauded.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean she’s got her new act perfectly figured out. Between-song patter sometimes seems like a box-ticking exercise in controversy and she has a tendency to lapse into an inexplicable faux Valley-girl accent. Also, the less said about her foray into hip-hop (“a white girl rapping about sexism – don’t tell my label!”), the better.

Once the shock – and admiration – at Nash’s unexpected Courtney Love act had worn off, the gig itself sank into a lull. The abrasive songs all began to meld into one, with only the more frenetic, punk-influenced tracks doing something to rise above the tedium. Her voice remains as strong and clear as ever, but it appears that – while worthy of appreciation – she hasn’t quite got the full package to carry off such a bold move.

Eventually, Nash did play ‘Foundations’, albeit a more amplified version than the radio edit, and one featuring no piano. The crowd went wild; you sensed this is all they’d really showed up for. When you want to do something new and your biggest hit becomes an albatross around your neck, the debate of art versus commerce rears its ugly head once more.

Words by Joe Rivers

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