Classic Grand, Glasgow - Sat 6 Mar 2010
Remember Kate Nash? Vague images of a quirkily poised MySpace nerd with cockney rhymes about dumping "bitt-a” boys for their “fitt-a” mates suggest that there was reason for her sometimes frosty reception by critics residing in Camp Lily Allen/Jamie T. Then again, perhaps a slightly frazzled recollection’s just a sign of the times. Either way, if you remember her, you probably won’t recognise her now.
The once mythical ‘gap in the market’ for 21 to 24-year-old female upstarts (either peculiar or gobby, or both) has been obliterated recently by Florence & The Machine, La Roux, Little Boots, and - before them - Adele, Bat For Lashes and Queen Beehive Amy Winehouse. The carousel’s rapid turnaround has its advantages; with the radar currently flaring up around Ellie Goulding Vs Marina & The Diamonds, we can stop feigning an interest in Duffy parading around on a bicycle, fuelled by nothing edgier than Diet Coke. But it can be somewhat of a bitch if you’re hoping to remain in the people’s iPods. With the dust firmly settled after Nash’s number one album and Brit Award for Best Female, it’s now time to see if she really cuts the mustard in round two. And performing her first gig in two years, it’s as plain as the English of her storytelling that Kate Nash realises this.
“I don’t know if I can still play but fuck it!” she shrieks to signal the start of a rather different set, featuring mostly unheard material. Less concerned with her ability then, Nash v2.0 is keen to tackle pastures new by demonstrating that a girl’s allowed a change of heart. If her recent participation in a band called The Receeders isn’t enough of a giveaway, her abrasive yelping on new material from a forthcoming sophomore release confirms that it’s goodbye cutesy ditties, hello riot-grrrl punk. That would at least explain the bold ditching of floral prints for a monochrome bat-winged uniform together with Lego Man bob and lashing of Hollywood red lipstick. It just screams (or rather, shrills) Karen O – and, less fortunately at times, The Exorcist’s Linda Blair.
Pre-empting one new track 'I’ve Got A Secret' with a third-wave-feminist speech about society’s homophobic “Nazis” Nash shows she knows her mutinous Bikini Kill from her feral Sleater-Kinney. That, or she’s been biding too much time in Camden’s vintage record shops. She’s possibly the only one still doing her nerdy homework on the latter’s donations to the Harvey Milk fund. And her album’s working title My Best Friend Is You must surely be a nod to the former’s song Rebel Girl. Encouraging the crowd to participate in a duplicate performance, the now less wordy rebel makes light of her genre-mimicking repetitive lyrics dubiously explaining, “I just got really lazy.”
No doubt she’ll be accused of calculated re-invention. More likely, it’s a reaction to hanging out with The Cribs’ Ryan Jarman, working with ex-Suede man Bernard Butler and just generally settling into her 20s. After all, there were hints at a love affair with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Fever To Tell on her pre-Polydor single 'Caroline’s A Victim' three years ago.
Standing upright with guitar in hand, Nash introduces a “poem”, which unfolds like an art-punk speedy monologue potentially commissioned by the Young Vic. “I read Glamour and The Guardian/I take cocaine,” she interjects before building to a furious climax. That lid’s not going back on any time soon.
The question is whether it works. Continuing in the vein of protest camaraderie, Nash hopes to ignite a rambunctious chanting of 'Mansion Song’s, “I am a mansion/I am a mansion/I won’t take none of your shit!” But her Foundations-ready audience don’t quite understand, and Nash’s dissemination of lyrics sheets from behind her keyboard is more evocative of an unruly primary teacher standing on her desk during a school wet interval than of an activist clambering onto a podium in early ’90s Washington, DC.
Elsewhere, radio-friendly single 'Do Wa Doo' references new-wave jangles and Phil Spector girl groups. Nash calls it her “Destiny’s Child side”, which would make sense were Independent Women about “wanker-bashing”, not “player-hating”. Nevertheless the “bah-da-bah” choruses are loosely reminiscent of her last chart entry 'Merry Happy' ensuring that old crowd favourites such as Mouthwash don’t sound entirely out of place.
Overall, her nursery-rhyme staccato keyboards and electro-pop have become only slightly angrier as tales of infidelity are still randomly interjected by subjects such as cereal and head lice. Her utter commitment to a revolutionary direction is about as full-throttle as New Labour circa 1997. Once more the familiar childlike chattering on new track 'I Hate Seagulls', comes over like a dark, pre-menstrual Parklife. Nash’s witterings about picking off scabs too early are built around the same outlook of everything’s fine “cos you’re nice and I’m in love with you.”
Closing on the minimal lyrics of 'I Just Love You More' with its screechy razor-edged guitars and equally indecipherable screams, there’s no buckling to the crowd’s requests for her signature hit Foundations. As Kate Nash no doubt knows, the Rebel Girl was “queen” of Bikini Kill’s world. But onstage whisky-fueled revolt aside, she’s not quite ready to let go of all her Nash-isms. In the end, she’s a geek at heart; happy to be back as she wipes a tear from her eye. Time will tell whether, with the latest pack of lipstick-wielding chart-stroppers on the horizon, there’s room in our hearts to return the sentiment.