"Whoa, she's got a keyboard player," I remarked as Emmy the Great was setting up for her first of many CMJ shows at Pianos Tuesday afternoon. I'd seen Emmy play four times previous and at none of them did she have more than a second guitarist and a violin player. But here she had three people backing her. No, four. Wait…five. Oh my god, Emmy the Great are a six piece?
My first thought was "Isn't this overkill?" I always compared her to Billy Bragg or Mary Lou Lord. One of those "less is more" types who just need their well-written songs, a guitar and a voice to win over audiences. Won't drums and a bassist and a keyboard player just make it more difficult to focus on what makes her special?
Well, yes and no. While there was all that instrumentation, it's not like Emmy became Joan Jett or anything. Drumming was gentle, embellishments tastefull, favoring the song. At Pianos, during the Music Slut party, where the mix was a bit in flux, the vocals got lost a bit in the mix but having heard most of her songs before I didn't mind so much; he set sounded much better at Music Hall of Williamsburg, though her's is really more of a sit-down kind of show.
The band sounded great and it was nice to hear the songs I knew so well in bare-bones form fleshed out a little more, but I don't think I'd have wanted it to be my first impression. She is capable of such turns of phrases, clever but often sad and hit straight to the heart of it, that's what you should hear above all else. But as Heart on a Stick said, any day you get to see Emmy twice is a good one.
Emmy's new single, "We Almost Had a Baby," is out on November 10 and her debut album, First Love, will drop in January. Here's video of Emmy doing "Easter Parade" at Pianos: