REVIEW: Paul Rhodes’s verdict on Nina Nastasia and Before Breakfast, The Crescent, York, August 29

Nina Nastasia: “Going eye to eye with some very difficult issues”. All pictures: Paul Rhodes

NINA NASTASIA is enjoying an overdue creative rebirth. Falling off the music map in 2010, in 2020 she left her controlling partner, who then committed suicide. Her grief drove the creation of 2022’s Riderless Horse, a striking album that goes eye to eye with some very difficult issues. It will likely prove a very hard act to follow.

Yet, in person, the music never felt depressing. Nastasia was jetlagged from her flight and delayed by the annual end-of-school-holiday air traffic system meltdown that nearly did its worst.

As she walked onto the stage alone, she asked for a whisky. Despite the claggy head, she has an unerring ability to connect. “Keep yourself wide awake”, she sang rhetorically. Between songs she talked self-deprecatingly about catastrophising and brain fogs. Such is her way that mistakes add to the set.

Nastasia’s songs don’t seem to be anatomically correct: there are sometimes parts missing, or in unexpected places, they go round and about and often repeat themselves. Musically they are often simple. It adds to their uniqueness.

Before Nina: Support act Before Breakfast, alias Gina Walters, playing solo to The Crescent’s seated audience on Tuesday night

By contrast, opening act Before Breakfast’s material reveals a more traditional musical education, albeit not from the Brill Building. Also performing alone, Gina Walters met her (absent) musical foil in the music department of Sheffield University, and her songs are literate and full of interesting moments, beautifully sung and confidently performed (somehow making the act of setting glasses back on her nose seem part of the choreography).

Without going into their back story, Nastasia played many of Riderless Horse’s songs that tell you enough. There were a number of highlights from that record. Is This Love? had the startling line “Drawing blood until we both see black”, while In The Graveyard tells you how that story ended.

Hard Long Life tunefully stuck two fingers up to tribulation. A tune about a fire and violence in the grasslands was on a par with Nick Cave – a dark ballad that left you breathless. If only the best song of the night has a name!

Leaving to well-deserved cheers, let’s hope it’s not long before we hear Nastasia’s unique voice in York again.

Review by Paul Rhodes

Nina Nastasia: “Tunefully sticking two fingers up to tribulation”