Kimya Dawson, Union Chapel, London

2.00

Even the Juno effect can't help

"I feel like I don't have the charisma," Kimya Dawson plaintively mumbles. "I can't play my guitar and look at you at the same time." It must be a relief that her songs have reached No 1 almost anonymously, on the soundtrack to the film Juno, put there by its teenage star Ellen Page. The 35-year-old Dawson already had a decade's work behind her on New York's anti-folk scene, largely as one half of The Moldy Peaches with Adam Green. But nerves that make her murmur and apologise before songs still have her hunching defensively over her guitar.

Anti-folk's inclination to child-like inconsequentiality is given free rein as Dawson starts with eight songs from her new children's album, Alphabutt, written for her own baby daughter, busily taking her clothes off in sight of her at the front here tonight. "The poop and pee songs – what's wrong with me?" she wonders aloud. And while it is fine for a songwriter with a young child to write for the kindergarten, you have to wonder why her adult audience are whooping and giggling. If Paul McCartney were to try the same trick, these same indie hipsters would form a hunting party.

Her scene's seemingly bottomless indulgence and willed innocence is a retreat from crass commercial instincts in the wider world, where every value can seem for sale. But as the crowd happily suggest animal noises, and Dawson's lyrics switch between childhood and old age, twee regression sets in.

The scene's ethics are partly dissected on a later song, "Singing Machine". "Doesn't matter what you look like, doesn't matter what you sound like, doesn't matter if they like you," she advises would-be musicians. "Just remember to be kind." This combines UK punk's participatory ethic with US enthusiasm, like a lo-fi American Idol. Self-criticism, you suspect, is her mind's default position. But, having summoned the bravery to get on stage at all, applying it to music seems too painful. Limpness results.

"Loose Lips", a vibrant song against authority, shows Dawson's capacity. "We won't stop until somebody calls the cops. And even then..." she declares, as she combines anti-Bush rhetoric with loving support for a self-harmer, and undefined nostalgia for "how it used to be". The child night-panics and fear of being entombed in "Underground" dig deeper into her. Her first song "Eleventeen", written when she was "kind of a mess" from drugs and depression, then sees her head bow low as if singing to her old self, lost back in that place. You can't say she's insincere.

When two teenage girls apologetically leave early, one hanging fiercely to the hand of the other, Dawson politely says goodbye. "Nice meeting you – you have school tomorrow?" she enquires. Pop is built from such intimate connections, and she is concerned with community. Perhaps these were new fans as attached to Page's witheringly sarcastic, super-hip fellow teenager from the film as to Dawson. But the latter's songs helped build the soft, warm-hearted character that the script at first conceals. Her simple, looping chords and slightly shaky, girlish voice are the template for even incidental music, and inform Juno's whole texture. There is, though, a steady drift from the Union Chapel's pews before the hour-long set's end. And not everyone has school.

The Juno effect won't phase someone who can observe: "If you hear anyone say, 'You are huge', look at the moon." But the sudden whirl of creative ambition in "The Beer", a fantastic tale of violent suicide and subsequent zombie visits to the mall, frustrates in its rarity. One of a brace of moving new, adult songs about her baby daughter casually admits her songwriting will probably deteriorate because of her. "All I can do next is be a good mother," she states, knowing there are more important things than music. Except that, when you're performing, there really shouldn't be.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz