Ema Sierra, Marika Hackman @ The Birdcage, Bristol, 16/11/2014

Marika Hackman by Pip for Dirty Hit RecordsOver the course of the past few years, Marika Hackman’s performances have become so vast and varied the singer songwriter has already covered all four corners of the live arena spectrum. Tonight she takes on The Birdcage in Bristol, a quaint boutique whose space caters towards coffee table acoustics between cups of herbal tea, vintage clothing and ample decoration. It’s been transformed into cosy quarters to accommodate a sell out crowd for the soon to be debutant. Even the venue’s treasured mannequins are pushed back and to the sidelines, to give her army of devoted fans a clearer view.

Before Hackman appeases her audience’s hungry appetite, support act Ema Sierra takes to the stage. The Manchester based artist is joined by her highly talented guitarist, introduced simply as Ian. They’re fresh faced and, if interaction between the two is anything to go by, a little inexperienced - at least in terms of playing in front of this many people. Sierra’s musical styling leans heavily towards the category of alternative rock, with names like Kirstin Hersh, PJ Harvey and Ill Ease all cropping up in comparison. Her vocal is distinct to say the least, ranging the mockney of early Kate Nash, licked Northern wit and skylark clarity. To her detriment, sometimes this peculiarity distracts from the composition of her work – on occasion we find ourselves wishing she’d just sing ‘normally’. But then again, if she were to do that, she would hardly stand apart from the crowd.

Standing apart from the crowd is something the performers of tonight certainly need to do. As Sierra plays, hundreds flock into Birdcage, looking slightly aghast at the lack of available seating. Several lines of cross-legged attendees flank the stage and swamp the hangers. From our position at the front, it looks as though the room has transformed into an eerily transfixed silent school choir.

Hackman’s set up definitely warrants such a gathering. She plays variations of her songs with only two band mates, providing a unique, one-off performance. Despite her relatively young career, it feels like an evening of retrospect in the wake of a massive achievement: almost like an MTV session in the 90s, or a celebratory performance for BBC Four. Suitably, many of Marika’s older tracks make an appearance. It’s a pleasure to hear “You Come Down” in all of its chilling glory, alongside lesser well known but equally standout pieces likes “Wolf” and “Cinnamon”.

It’s a struggle to remember this is not an Evening With exclusive from a seasoned artist, and Marika Hackman has yet to release a full length debut. When we saw her support The Antlers a month ago we noted her newer songs sounded markedly advanced from her older material. Tonight – although there are clear era divides - everything blends together seamlessly. Having only heard it twice so far, we can guarantee “Ophelia” waits in the wings for extreme devotion. It’s a fantastic, lovely song that plays to all of Hackman’s strengths but with far superior imagery than anything she's put out so far. Meanwhile “Animal” highlights her ability to play an upbeat melody without loosing her focus, and her sleep-y lullaby is beyond cathartic.

Tonight’s performance at the Birdcage almost certainly offers a last chance saloon to catch Marika up close and personal - that is, without spending an absolute packet to hire her for a private gig. Her sincerity in thanking her audience for attending rings so true it hurts your heart – whether she knows it or not, she’s about to bloom.

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