It’s an interesting choice for an artist, especially an established artist, to start a show with a cover of someone else’s song. That Emmy the Great chose to start her gig at Ideal Bar with the Cranberries’ “Dreams” in Cantonese was an interesting artistic move, a moment for everyone who recognized the tune to feel clever, and a talking point about how the hallmark of a song’s popularity in Hong Kong is the number of Chinese cover versions of it (apparently there’s a techno one of “My Heart Will Go On” that we should all either seek out or avoid like the plague).
It’s a quirky but competent beginning, one that sets the tone for Emmy (née Emma-Lee Moss) to tell stories about songs and a childhood in Hong Kong. She’s alone on stage with her guitar and a pocket-sized synth set-up, but clearly comfortable with chatting about herself in a way that’s self-deprecatingly charming, at telling you little facts about songs that meander just the right amount.
In this solo set up, it’s interesting to see how much her style has changed from her debut album, First Love — written primarily for solo acoustic guitars at a time when everyone was drooling over Bon Iver and plotting to move to a cabin in the woods. Her work since then has come with more complete band arrangements, relying less on finger-picking, and when it’s played by her solo, it’s in a stripped back form. It’s clear that she has given thought to how she would perform them — even the requests she takes from the audience (she can only play half of them — one fellow is particularly bad about choosing songs she can remember).
The evening is best represented by Moss’s latest single, “Mahal Kita,” an upbeat pop song about foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. It’s a final look at the personal history she’s shared all evening and how it radiates beyond her. It looks beyond the exploitation of workers and focuses on what they do to reclaim their senses of self. Moss is marking out a next phase, beyond the super-personal songs, beyond just guitars, toward something ever more ambitious.