Nadine Shah, Live at the 100 Club

August 2021
Words by Dani Ran
Photos by Chazz Adnitt

Alright then! Been a while, hasn’t it? Last night, we finally reopened the doors to our Fred Perry Subculture events at one of London’s most prodigious venues for an evening of powerful, fresh, dynamic live talent.

After almost 18-months off, the transition back into normality has been a rocky one, to say the least. We’re all gagging for just a crumb of familiarity, yet everything is still slightly... off. The one saving grace throughout it all however: music. After a brief hiatus, we were so ready to return to our favourite red-lit basement for an evening of live performances from two of the scene’s most exciting new acts. It’s difficult to articulate how the past 18-months without live music have been, but last night definitely highlighted a newfound camaraderie amongst punters who, pint in hand, embraced the tender croons of some very exciting cult artists.

Kicking off the night was the ever stoic yet inordinately magnetic Sinead O’Brien. Backed by her band of jagged rockers, O’Brien captivated the audience with what at times felt like very private, personal poetry readings, inviting the audience to sit down and listen carefully, but not get too comfortable. Her lyrics, which often capture both the mundanity and the absurdity of everyday life, were hurled at the audience with a deadpan disposition as her backing band built a wall of sound surrounding both O’Brien and the audience. Post-punk riffs crescendoed during fan favourites ‘A Thing You Call Joy’ and ‘Most Modern Painting’, rendering the energy in the room electric in anticipation for the evening’s headliner, Nadine Shah. 

Where Sinead O’Brien left a spiky, jagged edge, Nadine Shah certainly smoothed it over. Shah, backed by her band of dads, transported the audience of 100 Club into her own personal Speakeasy bar with soaring soulful vocals and dynamic rockabilly riffs. Like many artists over the course of the pandemic, Shah released an album last year, but has been unable to play it live to fans as a result of, well, you know. Not only this, but Shah’s 2020 album Kitchen Sink had been met by rave reviews and critical acclaim whilst in lockdown, meaning the anticipation amongst fans and Shah herself had almost bubbled to the brim at this point. Last night, Shah was finally able to intimately recite some of the fan favourites off Kitchen Sink, as well as some older classics. Shah, an animated performer, prowled the stage like a hungry lioness, growling potent feminist lyrics through the grit of her teeth.

Her presence was inviting yet isolated, warm yet standoffish, as she uncomfortably stared into the crowd, winking sporadically at gawking punters. It was during Kitchen Sink’s leading track and 6 Music favourite ‘Club Cougar’ that Shah and her band could really show off just how much time and energy has gone into ensuring perfection. Her band, complete with two brass parts, demanded full attention, as audibly intense as it was emotionally. 

Almost as idiosyncratic to Shah as her yowling vocals and poignant lyrics is her wit and charm. Shah cracked jokes between songs, perhaps a much needed comic relief between intense personal and political yelps. A true entertainer, Shah emphatically pushes the audience's limits and boundaries, leaving the audience unsure of where she’s going to go next. 

Last night’s Subculture gig was the perfect reintroduction back into intimate live music, the first of many more to come.