If American music is meant to reflect American life, and there is something inherently fatalist about the latter, then EMA is an exemplary specimen of the former. The eponymous Erika M. Anderson opened her latest tour to a small but clearly dedicated crowd at Ideal Bar, working overtime to contextualize her music for an audience that may not understand the American condition in 2017 beyond the eye roll-inducing headlines about the President.
Anderson is accompanied by a drummer and a multi-instrumentalist who plays bass, synths, and violin, as well as having built his rig which includes a touchscreen that he’s using to live-manipulate her voice. It’s a set heavy on her new album, Exile in the Outer Ring, as well as 2011’s Past Life Martyred Saints, two albums wrapped up in political and feminine angst. Anderson’s frayed post-punk is delivered with a force that suggests she could destroy worlds, even as she makes flippant quips between songs. “Do you guys have big malls?” she asks when introducing “Breathylizer.” “No? You have Ikea and shit, right?”
She’s all over the map performance-wise: “Blood and Chalk” proves that she could sing ballads if she wanted to, while the acid-fried “Fire Water Air LSD” and “33 Nihilistic and Female” prove that she really doesn’t want to. Her presence is strong but not threatening, even if she sometimes swings her ponytail like a weapon.
The house music has come up but people are still applauding and the band returns. There is some debate about what to perform, before “7 Years” is begun with the caveat that they might fuck it up (they don’t). Anderson then launches into “Butterfly Knife,” stopping two lines in to turn up her guitar. She apologizes to her soundwoman over cheers from the crowd. In truth, without some massive wash of noise or feedback to soundtrack Anderson’s exit, the end of the set does feel a little abrupt. It’s about the only criticism you can come up with, though, for the artist who’s providing the realist soundtrack to whatever dystopia we’re currently living in.