Wednesday 19 July 2017


Cocktail-making clonked at the bar and a card machine bleeped as TUSKS launched into her finale, 'Dissolve'. This is her new single. Live, as with the tracks that preceded it, this one is a combination of guitar playing and keyboards and pre-arranged electronic swirling that make it an intense hypnotic experience, the noise surrounding you and gleaming glittering in your ears. Music of this magnitude felt like it didn't belong here, upstairs at Ronnie Scott's, sort of like the end-of-episode live music showcases in the new series of Twin Peaks, post-work suits occupying tables, the last brightness of the day shining through skylights. "It's strange to be playing somewhere you can see it's still light outside," said Emily Underhill between songs—this is real person behind stage presence and music entity TUSKS.

After her set we spoke to Emily briefly, agreeing that her music suited somewhere darker and smaller and more intimate and with less of Soho's oblivious droppers-in. Though imperfect in terms of venue, Ronnie Scott's nevertheless afforded Emily a showcase for her music, an opportunity to do what she does regardless of where that might be. Where-ness, however, ended up somewhat irrelevant. It didn't affect, for instance, the guitar-only rendition of 'Toronto' – usually punctuated by booming drum rolls and veiled in soaring synth fog, this version focused on that sharp far-off melancholic refrain, Emily eyes-closed, swaying as her fingers ran over the strings, pinkie poised on the pickups. The set began with 'For You' – the opener of TUSKS' debut Dissolve LP – a song we've not yet heard, one framed by robust warm dusty piano chords, chunky and heartfelt, the gradual synth tide rising from these notes, the repetition of "for you" made mesmeric by Emily's satin whispering tone overlapping with pitch-shifts low and high for full haunting experience, a sparse beat lusciously textured played on Roland drum pads, her standing and bouncing slow to rhythm. The slow-burning coil of compelling midnight flavours, the elsewhere phantomatic feeling of it, made for an introduction to TUSKS as a live act that instantly compelled and transported.

And though stormy all-encompassing sounds pull you into Emily's musical world, so too does the minimalism she seems to cradle so easily, the love of playing the music, feeling the music, clear on her face—as with 'Toronto' her Foals cover 'London Thunder' is guitar-only, the background fuzz of heavy effects white noise static killing thankfully the ambient hum of the venue, the watery chorus effect lovingly liquidising the sparse plucked notes, moving to grungy strums that filled the room, her voice crooning in this slow-rippling pool of electricity. Immensity in simplicity. The majesty of TUSKS was bigger than this little upstairs room of Ronnie Scott's with its to-and-fro table service waiters and waitresses and discretionary 12.5% service charge; thundering or gently quiet the music captivated, its well constructed melancholic grandeur surging and breaking the windows and turning day into night and rising well above any sense of place.

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