Hare & Hounds, Birmingham, 24th January 2024
It’s an average Wednesday night, yet Nell Mescal transforms an admittedly unremarkable dark room in Birmingham’s Hare & Hounds into a space to share experiences between young and old. Given Mescal’s status as an up-and-coming singer-songwriter with a small listenership, this transformation is remarkable. It is rare for an artist to convincingly invite an audience into their world, yet Mescal thoroughly enchants the venue’s second space. The second the pre-show playlist was interrupted by Kate Bush’s ‘Babooshka’, the lights go down and the audience is hooked.
Mescal’s entry into the music scene in 2023 was a flourish. And while she is potentially best known for being Paul Mescal’s sister, Mescal has carved a space for herself in the indie pop scene through lyricism focused on intimate, yet relatable, feelings and experiences. Most importantly, this is a space that exists outside of her brother’s shadow. The young artist finds a voice for herself with confessional lyrics which have charmed a variety of fans. The show’s audience demographic is varied: there are teenage pop fans, older fans who appreciate good music, and those who frequent the sticky floors of venues after a long day at work.
Given Mescal’s status as an up-and-coming artist, it would have been understandable for the audience to pick up on nerves or inexperience. However, Mescal does not disappoint. Her stage presence plays a key part in allowing the relatability of her set to be fully realised. Even earnestly admitting that playing guitar in front of people still makes her nervous before playing the unreleased ‘Electric Picnic’ makes her more relatable. Her behaviour during the set also speaks to this as she liberally dances along to her songs. Mescal is having just as much fun as her audience.
‘Homesick’ brings together everyone in the room, making it the perfect choice for a closing track
Mescal’s somewhat shy demeanour contrasts starkly with her vocals. Her vocal ad-libs balance her vocal talents with the emotionality of the music. This is particularly evident during ‘Yellow Dresser’, ‘Killing Time’, and ‘In My Head’. These ad-libs pinpoint not only Mescal’s sheer vocal talents (as some artists may be inclined to use them) but also more importantly, offer a sense of cathartic release. Mescal’s sincere vocal performance excels throughout the show. Tonally remaining honey-sweet for much of the show, Mescal punctuates her lyrics with moments of emotional honesty.
The choice to harmonise with her guitarist, Charlie Sinclair, instead of using a backing track (as many artists may be tempted to do) enchants the room. Sinclair’s vocals do not overpower Mescal’s, but rather enhance them, allowing the songs to resonate fully, adding depth to the texture of the music studio recordings may lack. Together, Mescal and Sinclair supply a masterclass in live harmonies for small rooms.
One stand-out track was ‘Homesick’, perhaps her best-known single. Played at the end of the set, this track feels like a celebration of the evening. Despite the sense of nostalgia and longing conjured by the feeling of homesickness, Mescal optimistically strides towards the future: “I’m a little bit homesick, but / I don’t wanna go home yet”. By the first chorus, there is a surge in energy, demonstrating Mescal’s potential as an indie pop artist. She also accepts these contrasting feelings in the proclamation “there’s no shame in that”, providing empowering reassurance. ‘Homesick’ navigates feelings that are familiar to everyone going through life changes, so it makes sense that when performing a song that deals with such universal feelings, Mescal pays close attention to her audience. She cheers on her fans when they sing into the microphone and dance alongside them. She sincerely considers her audience by interacting with them on an individual level and targeting enthusiastic fans with smiles and waves. ‘Homesick’ brings together everyone in the room, making it the perfect choice for a closing track.
Of course, it is important to note that due to her small discography, the setlist features some unreleased tracks, the highlights of which were ‘Favourite’ and ‘July’. With ‘Favourite’, Mescal encapsulates the desire to be not only known by someone but to become their favourite person. Introduced as an “angsty” song, Mescal shows the frustrations these desires may entail. The instrumentation shines during this track, with the melodies embodying the anger and longing in the song. Melodies that are just the right amount of expressive do not overpower Mescal’s vocals. The accompanying band is energetic and punchy, allowing the emotions of the song to manifest fully.
While Mescal still has a long way to go with her career, the show celebrates her music so far
’July’ is a relatively happy song for Mescal, describing the bittersweet joy of getting over someone from the past who was bad for you. Co-written with Sinclair, ‘July’ exhibits their musical chemistry during the harmonies. The harmony of lyrics from the chorus “I put you up on a pedestal / and now I’m looking down on you” with Mescal’s defiant “It’s coming up roses”, solidifies the song in its closing moments. From the opening lyric “I look at you and I feel nothing” to these final harmonies, the song is cohesive and a joy to hear live.
In the cramped room in Hare & Hounds, Mescal enchants her audience and delivers an intimate show. It is a certain triumph for the up-and-coming artist. While Mescal still has a long way to go with her career, the show celebrates her music so far and builds anticipation for her upcoming EP, Killing Time (out May 2024). And I, for one, certainly look forward to the next stage in her career.