Palehound is the alias of Ellen Kempner – an unflinching female guitarist and singer unafraid to lay bare her insecurities and imperfections through her music. Tonight is both a strange and special night for Ellen and her band, special as it is their first ever show in the UK, strange as their album is yet to come out in the UK – it was released in America last August but only gets a European release this coming Friday (4 March ).

Unlike our American counterparts, tonight’s audience has been exposed to just her first EP Bent Nail from back in 2013 and two songs from the upcoming album Dry Food. What we know of her is that she is an honest artist; sometimes laying her near wrenching lyrics over a quiet brooding guitar and other times screaming them over some electric squall and thrashing drums.

But relying on just two songs and an EP from back in 2013, leaves us largely uninformed and we don’t really know what to expect when Ellen and her band, made up of a bassist and drummer, make for the stage. ‘Healthier Folk’, a song from her soon-to-be-released album, opens proceedings. The words are confrontational and bitingly honest; ‘Why don’t they hold me? They just cradle me like a homesick child,’ Ellen sighs in a fit of self-inadequacy. And the instrumentation is no less striking; what starts off with a brooding guitar ends in an explosion of noise, with guitar, bass and drums fighting for attention in the best way possible.

One of the biggest draws for tonight has been the lead single from Dry Food, ‘Molly’. It’s exactly the sort of song you want to announce an album with; it’s explosive, energetic and leaves you asking ‘Who is this?’ When its fast, skeletal riff sounds out tonight there is a nod of recognition from the audience. The words are playful, cattish even, as Kempner warns boys off Molly whose ‘milking all the dudes till they bruise’. More impressive though is the transition from the verse to the final coda, here the instruments all jar and contort together in a number of sequences before Ellen’s voice victoriously shouts ‘ooh selfish Molly’ a number of times until the song’s close. We are suitably impressed.

In the next song, Kempner starts to lean against the wall while playing guitar, clearly feeling more comfortable in front of her first UK audience after winning us over with ‘Molly’. The song is ‘Psycho Speak’ from her Bent Nail EP and the lyrics are anecdotal and mundane drawing comparisons with Courtney Barnett: ‘My neighbour was an asshole/one night he revved up his car in the garage/ it made such a racket that I couldn’t sleep and I was pissed/but too lazy to do anything.’ The ending to this song though is different to what’s come before, it’s soft, measured and intimate with Kempner singing over some delicate guitar tones.

This softer vibe carries on into the album title track ‘Dry Food’. Like ‘Molly’, this is another big draw for people tonight and that becomes clear when the audience mouth along the words in adoration. Evoking the bitter taste a break up can leave in one’s mouth, Kempner sings ‘You made beauty a monster to me/so I’m kissing all the ugly things I see’ in one of tonight’s most heart-rending moments. The songs before this had given formulas lended from rock n rolls past, but why this song works is less obvious, yet it resonates deeper and with more conviction. It’s a moment for introspection not dancing or throwing yourself to the drums.

Palehound continue to show their versatility throughout the rest of tonight’s set. As an audience, we never know where they are going to take us as each song has several moments, playing big choruses in one moment and devastating breakdowns in the next. It’s gripping.

Kempner speaks very little tonight in between songs, but when she does it’s poignant.   As we reach tonight’s close, she says that she has dreamt her whole life of playing in the UK and tonight, she’s managed this huge life event with aplomb. At just over 20, it hasn’t taken her long to achieve this dream and where she can go now can only be bolstered by the European release of her album this Friday. We may have had to wait a little longer than America to hear the record but judging from tonight’s performance, some things are most definitely worth waiting for.

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Paddy Kinsella

Hi all, my name is Paddy and I have a love for everything from African music to indie to house (basically anything other than heavy metal). Gigging and listening to albums are genuinely the things I most value and love doing.