Live Review: CMAT – Leeds Stylus, 21.11.23

Sometimes you go to gigs and you come away feeling happy but not blown away. You saw what you expected and all was fine.

Then other times you come away with a sense that you’ve witnessed something more transformative. A performance that you can’t quite believe was in a room of that size.

That you’ve caught something on the way up, and you’ll be telling your friends and family “I was there” for years to come.

That is what happened when we saw Irish pop-country singer-songwriter CMAT tearing it up at Stylus in Leeds, a student union venue, good, but still modestly sized and made for bands and artists getting ready to take the step to bigger things. Here though, we had an artist that it felt has already outgrown this kind of place.

A commanding performance, at once both happy and sad (have a listen to those lyrics on the excellent album Crazymad, for Me) but always full of a swaggering, lunging, hair swinging energy from start to finish. From the opener, California, CMAT explodes on to the stage, white acoustic Gretsch flung this way and that as she whips the crowd into a frenzy.

The “flame haired stage owner” (as my friend described her) creates a brilliantly inclusive atmosphere, despite threatening to go to the back 2 rows and make sure they start dancing. They’d have loved that though, such is the adulation for CMAT. And it would have added even more to the “CMAT panto” feeling, posing, posturing and joking with the audience in between the expertly crafted pop music from her 2 albums.

Crazymad, for Me, her second outing, has been a huge critical success, “an abstract break-up album” and one that “tells the story of what happens when you’re still angry about something that happened 10 years ago”, as she told one interviewer. The stories are sad, angry, but laced with CMAT’s trademark humour. They reflect the way we perhaps suffer and cope by making light of things, throwaway quips to numb the pain and pretend we’re all OK. But in their complexity, there’s room for an unadulterated joy, and that’s the overwhelming feeling inside Stylus.

Not that CMAT takes this for granted. She still courts the crowd by telling us that “Leeds is always the best gig of the tour”, something of a crowd pleaser as she spent the previous evening at the Leadmill, in the heart of South Yorkshire rival, Sheffield. She instigates the inevitable chants of “Yorkshire! Yorkshire!” and tells stories of wearing Leeds United shirts growing up, as a small section of Dublin where her father hails from, is devoted to the Elland Road side.

It’s the self-deprecating nature that disarms the crowd. Describing herself as “an unwashed version of Taylor Swift…an ITV version”, only endears her further to an already devoted following. It means that when she quite literally demands attention (“I am a middle child!”) and insists that everyone “put their hand in the air and wave it about like a little chicken” they comply without question.

I Wanna Be A Cowboy, Baby!, gets the whole room swaying and two-stepping. You have to join in, not just because of CMAT’s instruction, but if you stood still, you’d feel seasick! The set is consummately crafted to build and build towards a huge encore. Given it started at a 10, it’s a miracle that there’s still somewhere to go, but the encore dials it up to 11 and then some, culminating in a riotous rendition of Stay For Something, the crowd and CMAT shouting “I just can’t do it” at the top of their collective lungs.

One for the ages this one – a stadium sized performance in a student union. One that you definitely just had to be there for.

Set List:
I Hate Who I Am When I’m Horny
I Don’t Really Care For You
Peter Bogdanovich
2 Wrecked 2 Care
Whatever’s Inconvenient
Vincent Kompany
Have Fun!
Phone Me
Can’t Make Up My Mind
Such a Miranda
Where Are Your Kids Tonight?
I Wanna Be A Cowboy, Baby!
Stay for Something

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