Emmy the Great and Tim Wheeler @ Bush Hall 14/12/11

Emmy and TimAs you may have noticed from the lights down Oxford Street and the thousands of stressed out shoppers clogging up every branch of the Tube, it’s Christmas! A time for family, friends and if my pounding headache and shaky hands are anything to go by, booze-fuelled merrymaking.

For a time of year that is almost entirely party–focused, I find it rather odd that the ‘official’ soundtrack completely blows. It’s a difficult thing to get right, especially for musicians who want to maintain their credibility. Christmas songs need to be sentimental, but not cloying, and catchy but not infuriatingly so.  Some people have tried to subvert it (pretty much every genre has had a go), but as with so many other things around this time of year (big jumpers, reindeer hats, gout), it’s best to just embrace it.

The latest record from Tim Wheeler and Emmy the Great is a brilliant example. Two parts schmaltz and one part indie cool, ‘This is Christmas’ is probably the only festive record released in the last five years that manages  not to throw the baby Jesus out with the bathwater.

A couple in real life, tonight’s show at the Bush Hall feels like more like laid back soiree round Sinatra’s house than a proper rock gig. Tim is in a crushed velvet tux, Emmy is glamorous in sequined fish tail, and their backing band has the best name ever – Sleigher. They swing between Slade-style Christmas rock (complete with sax), gentle Bing-Cosby-by-the-fire numbers and the more ‘traditional’ tracks like Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’.

While their original material makes excellent use of Emmy’s talent for quick witted wordplay and Tim’s zippy guitar is perfect for indie-rock good times, when it comes to showstoppers, their cover of John Pine’s ‘Last Christmas in Prison’ is a total winner.

Their party is a triumph exactly because they don’t mess around with the formula too much. Where they do tinker, they do it with surreal charm, on ‘Zombie Christmas’, for instance, and when they attack scrooges, it’s with energetic gusto. ‘Home for the Holidays’ is the perfect example of a modern Christmas pop song. It also helps that we’re all here for some Christmas fun. The audience is full of oversized Christmas jumpers and tinsel as accessories, although disappointingly I was the only one brave enough to wear the paper crown out of a cracker.

Sheer unrelenting good will, and Christmas spirit pour from the stage, and by the time we reach the encore of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ and ‘Jesus the Reindeer’ they have the audience eating out of their hands. Ending on a high, an up-tempo version of ‘Fairytale of New York’ has the whole room arm in arm, swaying, singing and spilling mulled wine all over the place. Now, if that isn’t the point of Christmas then I don’t know what is!

This post originally appeared on Spoonfed on 16 December 2011

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