Emma McNeill, Morbison, Marika Hackman @ Thekla, Bristol, 27/11/2012

Crawling into the venue after a lifeless two hours waiting in the cold, it doesn’t look like the good ship Thekla will heat up anytime soon. Swedish giant Jens Lakman is playing the downstairs room, and elsewhere First Aid Kit and The Dirty Three take a stab at Bristol’s pool of gig goers, leaving newbie and under promoted folk mistress Marika Hackman a very modest audience.

First up though, local singer songwriter Emma McNeill and her supporting troupe of friends and family swamp the upstairs bar, bringing with them a standard rowdiness. Joined by Abi Ward on stage, DrunkenWerewolf is notably the only person not to know McNeill personally. Unfortunately it makes for an awkward show; like un-surreptitiously crashing a dinner party and getting beat to all the food but never actually turfed out. Struck by a fit of giggles half way through her third number, Emma is professional in harmony but (because of the aforementioned stranger to social circle ratio) the performance doesn't reach its full potential.

Next up is Morbison, and as Chris Nicholls and Joan Patrick lug their gear past the dregs of McNeill’s set the venue begins to fill out, saving the duo from a similar fate. I don’t know whether it’s pure relief that we’re not alone in a crowded room anymore or the surprisingly good acoustics of the room, but the sound seems bang on and aspects of Morbison’s music previously lost to drone and the din of chatter are brought to the forefront.  Better matched to Hackman’s macabre strumming; Morbison touch on all manner of creepy crawlies in their lyrics, beautifully matched by Patrick’s violin, to create a chilling entrée.

Finally and after a good deal of door checking, the body of tonight’s financial income trickles through. It’s still a disappointing turnout for such a rising star, but as Hackman tiptoes on stage she seems completely oblivious – perhaps just thankful for a headline tour, as this is the second date of her first. Bashful and coy, she’s nevertheless an engaging presence in such a small room and her songs soon engulf the gaping space between shoulders. Besides her healing value, the real joy about tonight is that half of Marika’s set is occupied by completely unaired songs; an intimidating prospect on most occasions, but her delivery is so captivating it simply allows for time to study what’s to come. And Jesus, we can’t wait for her album. Standout tracks "Cannibal" and “Retina Television” epitomises the quality of her new material; a glorious, noir ode to darkened eyes in the early morning, sung by someone with the voice of a forest nymph.

Exuding technical skill as well as creative prowess, although the bar shuts shop before the hour strikes ten, those that leave the venue tonight do so with a heart full of black stuffing, ravenous for more from the Hampshire-ite. All ten of us.

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