(Photos by Daniel Kielman)
Wednesday night marked the end of EMA‘s West Coast tour with Mas Ysa, as the two acts performed their final sets before going their separate ways. Oakland duo Safeword (Darren Russell and Jonah Strauss) opened the show, playing on the floor of The Independent rather than the stage. I’m not sure whether they requested this unusual arrangement or were simply forced offstage due to an abundance of gear, but the duo crafted energetic post-punk with a four-piece drum kit and an electric bass guitar, plus a bunch of pedals.
Canadian synth act Mas Ysa (a.k.a. Thomas Arsenault) performed a solo set, warming up with instrumental beats before grabbing a concealed microphone to sing and dance on tracks from his debut Worth EP. Those standing close enough to the stage could hear Arsenault say that he didn’t prepare a set list ahead of time, and that the crowd was required to dance during songs like “Why” and “Shame”. The beats and vocals echoed beautifully off the walls of The Independent, getting to crowd warmed up for EMA to “come out and kill it.”
EMA’s backing band provided a foggy violin intro as singer/songwriter/guitarist Erika M. Anderson walked on stage to perform The Future’s Void opener “Satellites”, followed by “Solace” and “So Blonde”. She apologized for minor, albeit ironic technical difficulties, which seemed to be appropriate given the digital, sci-fi theme of her latest album. Set pieces included four vertical LED screens, and a potted fern.
Anderson eventually introduced her bandmates as Leif Shackelford on violin, bass, and synths; Billy on drums; and newest member Becky on guitars, synths, and vocals. Anderson switched off between playing electric guitar and singing vocals only, depending on the song. EMA played a pretty solid mix of newer and older material, dedicating “Cthulu” to the “sci-fi nerds”. Highlights from her breakthrough 2011 release Past Life Martyred Saints included “The Grey Ship”, “California”, “Butterfly Knife”, and somber standout ballad “Marked”.
The real treat of the night didn’t come until after the encore break, which was preceded by “Dead Celebrity”. Leif Shackelford thanked the crowd and announced they would play one more long one, a song they had not yet played on their current tour. It ended up being “White Like Heaven”, the standout piece by Anderson’s long-defunct San Francisco-based drone-folk trio Gowns, off 2007’s Red State. With the generous surprise for her truest fans, EMA made sure to end her Bay Area return on a high note.