Near the end of Friday’s opening set by LA, drone-folk artist, EMA, lead singer, Erika Anderson did as many do when they get their first big festival show courtesy of the Pitchfork Music Festival, she showed some gratitude. She thanked Pitchfork for taking notice, then went on to explain how there was a time after her last group, Gowns, disbanded when she felt like giving up music altogether, moving back to Sioux Falls, and drinking beer, or whatever.
Make no doubt, Pitchfork can alter the lives of musicians, both big and small. What was more interesting, however, was how this woman, decked out in Kim Gordon cool (Short red shorts, blue-vein tights, and torn tee), displaying a tough exterior, was able to open up so freely to the crowd. This wasn’t thanks for paying me talk. This was real.
That’s EMA — tough, thoughtful, gracious, and talented. Yes, talented. On her most recent album, Past Life Martyred Saints, Anderson’s deeply confessional stories were delivered against a backdrop of noise, drone, and folk. Here, however, with herself on guitar, her younger sister on drums (And, boy, could that young gal pound), and two other musicians switching between violin, keys and second guitar, the music took a harder, art-punk edge. The lead riff on “Grey Ship,” took on a deep, evil, almost-metal edge while “Milkman,” became dirty and propulsive. Later, it was on “California,” where the band now configured with just two violins and drums, whipped up a hellish swarm of sound as a back drop for Anderson’s pointed rap recounting where everything went wrong in the Golden State.
Yet, it wasn’t the noise itself which made EMA’s set so memorable. It was those moments when the noise contrasted with her confessional reflections. “Red Star” began with a quaint violin melody, like a lullaby. By its end, however, those guitars were cranking big, alt-rock riffs. There again, was that toughness and determination; the drive to make it through those tough times, and, the big payoff at the end.