Scout Niblett @ Freebutt, Brighton 05.06.10

This may be 2010 but any of the legendary blues old-timers would nod approvingly at the fiercely fabulous sound produced by Emma Louise ‘Scout’ Niblett and her guitar.

Jun 5th, 2010 at The Freebutt, Brighton / By Norman Miller
Scout Niblett Outta Nottingham but now US-based, Niblett usually gets compared - reasonably - to early PJ Harvey. But crammed onto the tiny stage at Brighton’s Freebutt alongside towering drummer Dan Wilson there’s also a sense of a role-reversed White Stripes on show, with Niblett as a female Jack White with a strong but bleeding heart.

The dark intimacy of the venue suits a storming set that blends numbers from her excellent new album The Calcination of Scout Niblett with dips into a back catalogue going back to 2003’s I Am.

On the face of it, Niblett has a sparse sonic palette but she more than compensates with crackling intensity, powerful lyrics and the compelling diversity she injects into the quiet-loud grunge template through a combination of razor-sharp licks, slowly rolling contrasts and reverb-drenched thrash. Her voice, too, is a thing of beauty - almost girly in speech, clear and intense in song.

Niblett paces the set beautifully - the beefy chords and anguished vocal of IBD giving way to the loving menace of ‘Kings’ then the slowly tortured hooks of ‘Cherry Cheek Bomb’. The superb title track from Calcination, meanwhile, finds her standing like the calm eye at the heart of an aural storm.

Niblett also exudes a simple joy in what she’s doing that adds charm to proceedings, whether throwing her arms triumphantly in the air after several tracks or in relaxed banter with her drummer boy .

The interaction extends to Wilson joining in with guitar on songs like ‘Ripe With Life’ and the hushed beauty of ‘Black Hearted Queen’. Niblett in turn does one of her renowned forays on the drums for an intense version of ‘Your Last Chariot’ and a skin-tingling ‘Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death’.

Bittersweet love is a recurring subject, sometimes wrapped in angry guitar, or on songs like the heartfelt ‘Kiss’ swaddled in slow stately riffs. “If I’m to be the fool then so I be” Niblett sings with sweet resignation.

For her finale she asks for requests, mulling over suggestions before launching into a rousing take on ‘Wolfie’ - another hard-eyed view of relationship troubles as Niblett moves from asking “Who was prouder to be with the other/I think it was me” to watching “The film of you running away”.

“Fear not my fierce love” she’d sung earlier in the set - and at the end she deserves all the adoration she gets.