Abbe May: stripped back and rebuilt audience expectations of a gig.

Abbe May: stripped back and rebuilt audience expectations of a gig.

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Abbe May
Oxford Art Factory, June 14
Four stars

At the end of a week of boofheads, with or without blue ties, who revealed a marked lack of imagination alongside their marked excess of (misplaced) confidence, Abbe May showed them how it could be done if you’ve got real balls.

In less than an hour, with little discussion or explanation along the way, May stripped back and rebuilt our expectations of a gig.

And I’m not just talking about the fact that this show had not one song from her releases prior to this year’s Kiss My Apocalypse, those often thrilling, blues-rock albums which made her reputation set aside for now.

Instead the set began slowly and measured, the mechanised pace of Want Want Want easing up into the grind of T.R.O.U.B.L.E without ever pushing the throttle we might have prepared for.

Even when Napalm, Baby! made itself slinky in its half electronic/half organic setting, it was in a disconcerting way, like a little tremor in your belly when you don’t really trust what your eyes are promising.

That premonition made sense as Tantric Romantic got dirty with harsh guitar and a wall of synth bass acting as a slap to the face for those who thought, right, now we’re going to be let loose.

Nuh-uh. Not even when Kiss My Apocalypse offered the first genuinely sensual moment with its fluid groove, and Found Somebody’s ground-up R&B ballad hinted at softness. We were not going to get away with cheap thrills here.

What we were getting instead was complex and compelling thrills, held in the centre by May’s intensely charismatic performance but sparked sharply by her band: KT Rumble on guitar, Sam Ford on synths and bass and drummer Nicholas Jonsson. This coiled performance kept building incrementally, lifting us with it.

Sex Tourettes sent electric shocks rippling; the Motels’ Total Control was given a mechanical work over; Perth Girls forged rock-hard sternness until Rumble’s guitar carved through stone as May, on her hands and knees, manipulated his pedals.

And then the encore. Not an old song, not one of her songs, but Ginuwine’s dirty minded Pony. Yes, May was telling us, it is slowed down, freaked out R&B at the core of this show. Deal.