In recent years, there has been a surge in the popularity of female singer songwriters from the darker end of the spectrum such as Louise Lemón, Nicole Sabouné, Anna von Hausswolff and of course Chelsea Wolfe, effortlessly crossing musical boundaries, but perhaps gaining the most acceptance and popularity from the metal community. I find myself listening to all of them regularly but the artist of this ilk that has struck a chord with me most is the indomitable Emma Ruth Rundle so when I saw that she had announced a gig in Leeds, I immediately picked up a ticket and spent weeks excited about the opportunity to catch her live for the first time.
The Brudenell is a great venue with a friendly atmosphere and a cheap, well stocked bar with loads of real ales. However, upon my arrival I was directed away from the main stage to the “Community Room” and was told there were actually three gigs that night which must be a testament to Leeds’ live music scene and to the Brudenell as a venue. If I’m honest, I was a little disheartened, expecting the Community Room to be nothing more than a cupboard, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The room is spacious, with a tiered standing area at the rear and bench seats around the edge, as well as an attached room with a bar and merch area setting things up nicely for the evening’s gig.
First up were Nottingham’s Dystopian Future Movies and their melodic, haunting post-doom. Squeezing onto the full stage, the four piece opened with ‘Fortunate Ones’ from their debut album ‘Time’, and had soon won over the crowd as their sombre, weighty tomes rumbled around the room. Older track ‘Lace Armistice’ followed with the obvious centre piece being Caroline Cawley whose hypnotic vocals swirled around the oppressive, atmospheric and yet discordant music. As the crowd swelled, the band closed with three yet to be released tracks (unless I have missed something) with the peak of their set being the outstanding ‘Black Cloaked’ which saw Caroline’s vocals sounding powerful and yet vulnerable at the same time. The set was brought to a close with ‘Rules’ which built slowly to a droning finale. Wonderful stuff!
The room had filled to capacity by the time the exceptionally talented Jo Quail and her cello took to the stage. The set began with no frills or introductions, Jo simply took up her position and began tapping out a beat on the neck of her futuristic looking cello. The rhythm was recorded and replayed as a loop serving as a foundation for the mesmerising ‘White Stag’ which was completed with an eerie, complex melody being drawn from the cello. ‘Gold’ followed with the rhythmic ‘Lub-Dub’ of the percussion sounding like a heartbeat, accompanied by very subtle sampled sounds of breathing, which were the perfect backdrop for the serene melodies which filled the room. The crowd was transfixed, standing in respectful silence as new track ‘Reya Pavan’ was announced. This is to be a bonus track on the forthcoming ‘Exsolve’ vinyl release (which was available at the merch stand on limited edition splatter vinyl). We were told that this had only been played live three times before and Jo humbly said that each time she had tried it, she had “fucked it up”…. There was an edgy start defined by more looping rhythms as the subtle melodies grew in stature creating a dense, captivating atmosphere in the room. I’m not sure whether Jo was happy with this performance out not, but I, and those around me, were blown away,
In direct contrast to the sombre mood created during the musical passages, Jo bantered light heartedly with the crowd and sound desk between tracks, and looked to be thoroughly enjoying herself. This was infectious amongst the crowd who hung on her every word.
Crowd pleasing ‘Mandrel Cantus’ followed, once again building from its hypnotic beats, with varying rhythms and melodies to a stunning climax. After a quick panic about running out of time, the set was brought to a close with a majestic version of ‘Adder Stone’. After a slow measured introduction, there was a sudden injection of pace and urgency and I realised that I had been completely hooked in by the performance and all of the stresses from the working week had been washed away (temporarily at least!). The song ended to rapturous applause with a cello solo which brought to mind a Cliff Burton bass solo, and coming from me that is indeed high accolade!
There is something special here, something very special that makes Jo Quail’s performances stunning and enthralling. If you get the chance to catch her live, do yourself a favour and grab it.
So I found myself with a problem – I had run out of superlatives even before the headliner had taken to the stage, and yet I was still excited at the prospect of the forthcoming set. After a short turnaround, Emma Ruth Rundle and her three bandmates took to the stage and after a simple greeting launched into ‘Fever Dreams’ as simple yet effective riffs set the stage for the sublime vocals and their melody lines to take centre stage. The vocals were almost fragile, and yet were completely captivating as ‘Apathy on the Indiana Border’ and ‘So, Come’ passed by. The band really hit their stride on ‘Protection’ and ‘Darkhorse’, which for me was the highlight of this fantastic set. Emma may be small in stature but she completely commanded the stage and all eyes were fixed upon her as ‘Control’ built to a powerful finale. The set continued to enthral with ‘Marked for Death’ and ‘Dead Set Eyes’ which we were informed was about leaving Los Angeles and running away from the problems there. Static purple and blue back lights created an air of melancholy which was appropriate for the music and the atmosphere in the room as the enraptured crowd subconsciously nodded their heads in time to the music. Emma announced always looks forward to coming to the UK, but then gets nervous when she gets here, likening it to having a crush on someone and then seeing them. This led into older track ’Medusa’ and then ‘Light Song’ which closed the main set.
After a brief interlude, the band returned with ‘You Don’t Have to Cry’. The band then left the stage and after thanking the support acts, venue and staff, Emma Ruth Rundle single-handedly performed a stripped back, poignant and captivating version of ‘Real Big Sky’ which was a fitting end to this commanding set.
All in all, this was a fantastic evening with three performances of the highest order. Magnificent!
Review and Photos Andy Pountney