Billy Nomates review – post-punk soloist could do with some company

Village Underground, London
Bristol’s self-declared ‘no-waver’ delivers an entrancing performance but her electric energy needs a band to achieve its full force

Billy Nomates has always been determined to exist on her own terms. She released her first single in 2020 after a life-altering Sleaford Mods show, christened by an insult thrown at her by a crowd member who saw that she was attending alone. On that song, No, Tor Maries outlined her manifesto with an anthem of calm defiance: “No is the greatest resistance / No to your nothing existence”, the Bristolian declared, finding urgency in hollow delivery. In the vein of post-punk sprechgesang, her stark rhetoric was set in brutalist concrete. Her fierce rejection of the world around her spurred her to create one that was entirely her own.

Ironically, it’s this single-mindedness that draws a 700-strong crowd to her sold-out show at Village Underground. Maries performs alone, eyes closed, her body electrified with sudden, angular movements as if possessed by a dance fever. Her face is contorted into something like agony, driven by some animalistic need to sweat it out. She is a source of constant, frenetic movement while the crowd is static. “Everybody twist for me / Well c’mon and crack your knees honey,” she commands of an audience largely comprising 6 Music dads and swaying mums in turtlenecks – a real threat, here, rather than an invitation.

As a performer, Maries is entrancing, but her energy is lost in translation. Her vocals are equal, at times, even mightier, than what we hear on record – in fact, her delivery is so seamless, so electric, that she seems to flirt with the realm of pop. But her backing track flattens the caustic bass line of Balance is Gone; the pulse of Saboteur Forcefield proves weak without a band to bring it to life. Devoid of texture and tension, her sound is warped.

What saves Maries is her charismatic lyrics. Words fly to her like iron filings to a magnet. “Little boy, don’t think you quite understand / Don’t you act like I ain’t the fucking man,” she snarls on Spite, which offers a glimpse of the grit she is capable of. But to drive it home, Billy Nomates could really have used some friends.

• At the Bullingdon, Oxford, 23 November. Then touring until 3 December.


Sophie Walker

The GuardianTramp

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