Abbe May is a musician from Western Australia. I found her name in an article praising her last album, Design Desire, which came out in mid-2011. I checked it out and absolutely loved it: Abbe has an intense, soulful voice, and is a wicked guitar player. That album is a swirling mix of blues and rock, punctuated and punchy. I’m told her previous band, The Rockin’ Pneumonia, was very bluesy too (I like blues).
Then a few weeks ago Abbe released a new song, “Karmageddon“, from upcoming album Kiss My Apocalypse. It was fantastic too, but in quite a different way: all the reviews call her new sound doom-pop, and that’s pretty apt. It’s dark and catchy and repetitive and buzzy and sexy. I love it when artists grow, and was excited that she was adding a whole new sound to her repertoire, especially such a good sound.
When she announced a tour, with a Sydney date at tiny Goodgod Small Club, I bought tickets immediately. That show was last night.
The support act was Shy Panther. They were a group of young guys: a singer, two keyboardists/synthists, a bassist, and two drummers. They did a trip-hop sort of thing, but with perhaps jazzier influences, and lots of falsetto vocals. It was OK, but a bit distant and same-y and never really took off for me.
After they finished I got right up front in preparation for Abbe. I got a shot of the setlist as the crew taped it to the floor:
Wait a minute, I thought. I don’t recognise any songs from Design Desire on there.
Sure enough, Abbe and her band came out and played a set of songs that I presume are entirely from Kiss My Apocalypse. They were all in the same heavy, sexy, fuzzed-out vein as “Karmageddon”. There was nothing fromDesign Desire (or, I assume, any earlier albums). Abbe did not play guitar (her brother did), she only sang.
I was a little disappointed by this. This isn’t Abbe’s fault: I only found out about her recently. If I’d done so 2 years ago I’m sure I could have seen her play lots of rockin’ blues guitar shows. But she’s obviously gone in a new direction, and she’s clearly trying out her news songs in a live setting.
On the downside: On first listen none of the songs struck me as quite as good as “Karmageddon” (and the pre-recorded multi-track vocals even on that song made it impossible to tell if she was actually singing it live). There was a similarity of sound amongst the songs. The volume levels got ‘way overboard near the end, with more distortion than they intended, I think. And the band only played for about 40 minutes with no encore.
On the upside: Abbe is a powerful singer, and it was amazing to see and hear her up close. She’s not afraid to throw in lots of non-verbal vocal punctuations (“oohs”, “ahs” and yelps) for the sake of ramping up the emotion (that’s gotta help when you have a song called “Sex Tourette’s”). The songs have a pulsing, moody vibe that sticks up a middle finger to the mainstream and is yet compelling to those with a love for the groove. Her cover of The Motels’ “Total Control” was hot. And I’m certain that her parents were beside me, in front row centre (family support is nice).
All in all I left a little disappointed because I’d hoped to hear a mix of music from Abbe May’s already amazing output. That’s a comment on my experience, not on her capability, though, because the new songs are really creative and catchy too. Maybe after the new album comes out she’ll tour again with a mix of music old and new. Or maybe she’s cut ties with the past and is striking out in this direction, never to look back, and I missed my chance. I like it when artists move on, so I can’t whinge when they do, I guess.