Published on May 11th, 2016 | by Ben Bailey0
Kimya Dawson @ Patterns, Brighton Friday 22nd April 2016
It’s perhaps surprising to find Patterns at bursting point for an artist as unassuming and offbeat as Kimya Dawson. It’s been over a decade since her band The Moldy Peaches went into indefinite-hiatus mode and almost as long since the chart-topping Juno soundtrack gave her solo career a late lift-off. Nevertheless, the room is rammed with fans, probably because this Brighton date is one of only four UK shows on her current tour.
After taking the stage Kimya ushers the crowd to sit on the floor and everyone obliges, immediately creating a cosy living room vibe out of what could have been a tight wedge. It’s clear from her banter – and there’s plenty of it to go round – that she has a lot of time for Brighton people.
However, the circumstances surrounding her visits can hardly have given her fond memories of the place. Last time she played here, she left the stage reeling from the news that a friend of hers, Dennis Flemion of The Frogs, had been found dead. This time she starts the show with a commemoration for another musician close to her heart: Prince.
Despite the fact the news only hit the night before, the occasion is anything but sombre. She rigs up a projection of “that funny little man” posing provocatively in a thong and proceeds to play a selection of nonsense rhymes and comic ditties drawn largely from her neatly-named 2008 kids’ album ‘Alphabutt’. She even manages to elicit a crowd singalong about a “mare at the fair on the merry-go-round”, a song her daughter wrote at preschool age.
Given that much of Kimya’s songwriting, even the heavy stuff, has a charmingly childlike approach, it’s probably inevitable that parenthood would spur her on to go the whole hog. Whereas we’re used to her writing about the pitfalls of growing up, she’s now writing for those doing it – or about to. DIY kinder-folk, you might call it. Not a genre we thought we’d be listening to on a Friday night.
Though the fart and poop gags get the laughs they were destined to, Kimya moves on at exactly the right juncture to play some favourites like ‘Being Cool’ and ‘The Beer’, her sung/spoken rapid-fire lyrics reminding everyone why they caught on to her music in the first place. Seated throughout, Kimya accompanies the words with softly-thumbed acoustic guitar strums. We get one, maybe two, chords each verse and a third for the chorus, but all this passes beneath the radar. Often the guitar is dropped altogether, many of the songs working just as well as a cappella renditions. The audience is rapt and respectfully quiet.
‘Same Shit / Complicated’ and ‘At The Seams’ are the highlights of the set. The first is a call for mutual understanding and brilliantly paints a picture of hippies and yuppies eyeballing each other with derision before giving a characteristically frank account of the singer’s own contradictions and foibles. The second is a stripped-back protest song about institutional racism and police brutality which namechecks the Black Lives Matter movement in the chorusline. Originally posted online last year, this tune apparently took five years to write, and though there are certainly a lot of words, there’s a lot of anger too. “Prison’s a big business form of enslavement,” she sings sweetly in verse two. “Plantations that profit on black folks in cages. They’ll break our backs and keep the wages.”
Hearing a new song is enough to get us excited at the prospect of another album release (it’s been years), but it’s also a reminder of how much ground her music covers. She’s honest, funny and heartfelt, often in the same few bars. The punk roots are still there, alongside the nerd, the proud mom and the goofy storyteller. “Prince could play like 27 instruments. I can play none,” she laughs before wrapping up the night with a few lines from ‘When Doves Cry’. Her voice and words are enough.