Some personalities have the uncanny ability to turn a sure-fire victory into a defeat. Nobody knows how they manage this; it's simply a kind of genius. For an example par excellence just witness EMA's
spectacular blunder at the Bowery Ballroom performance this past Sunday.
Certainly there were hints that this was going to be an obnoxious show. It was hard not to groan when, with studied flippancy, EMA flung her microphone over her shoulder. "It's my mic, I bought it, I can do that," she said with a sneer that suggested not so much that she was above such paltry concerns as breaking property, but that she desperately desired her audience perceive her as that kind of person. Eyes rolled when she began to ramble about her 'zine and about a story she'd written about "how Neuromancer took over my brain" (said with a knowing slyness, as if nobody in the audience had ever heard of William Gibson). It was cliche and self-indulgent, yes, as were the occasional hackneyed rock-and-roll numbers the band occasionally resorted to, but it was excusable considering everything else.
The opening acts -- The Point (a group that mixes late-era Pink Floyd guitar work with The XX's electronic sensibilities) and Doldrums
(an electronic dance band who at their best suggest a more vicious Radiohead) -- had led the way with solid and intriguing runs; despite her affectations, EMA and her band managed a for-the-most-part thrilling set: the manic lighting design mixed with the often indulgently operatic rock for a kind of hysterical sincerity that suggested the show might end with a brilliant shriek.
Instead it ended with the most sanctimonious display of would-be messianic-sacrifice, with the most wretched display of cloying self-indulgence ever witnessed. To the tune of the archly titled "Dead Celebratory," EMA crouched down on her knees and offered her hands to the audience like Mother Teresa offering her hand to lepers. Oh god, did she ham it up, bestowing her adoring fans with the kind of patronizing, contemptuous love that only a self-declared "saint" can muster.
If she was aware of the tension between her words (the song is a stab at people's desire to live vicariously via celebrities) and her action, she was only willing to acknowledge it coating her voice with a layer of toxic irony. The look of self-satisfied rapture on her face and her actions -- she certainly did not actually stop indulging in the same rituals she was decrying -- told a different story. And why shouldn't they? For all of her protestations, for how often she identified herself in asides as a "punk," it's clear that EMA's interest is less in the music than in her burgeoning celebrity. How else explain that the only time she sounded assured the entire show was when she declared, "So we're playing New York, you guys. How cool is that? We fucking made it."
For those who are curious, though, you can see her live session with Baeble from a few years back. Was she any less obnoxious? Who knows; I couldn't bear to watch it.