Comparisons — and she’s bound to get plenty — are not going to be kind to Kate Nash, the latest idiosyncratic Brit femme pop singer to arrive on these shores toting a No. 1 album from back home. Unlike Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen last year and even Katie Melua before that, Nash has no wow factor nor a commanding performance style to make up for a lack of top-drawer songs. Her hourlong show at a packed Troubadour Monday, crippled by a muddy sound system, was choppy in its pacing, lacked an emphasis on her better qualities and never fully limned the charms of her Geffen debut “Made of Bricks.”
She does herself no favors by opening at the piano with a block of underwhelming songs. Once she picks up an acoustic guitar, the transformation borders on Cinderella — the performance sharpens, the songs get more focused and dynamic, and the band sounds like it’s on the same page as she is. Beneath the fire-red hair and the middle-class London accent is an artist who has done her homework; at her best, she possesses qualities that distinguished Tracy Chapman early on and Ani DiFranco about a decade ago.
Her strongest lyrics work off a simple sentiment — the quality of a smile in “Little Red,” for example — and in a ballad such as “Nicest Thing,” one of the evening’s quieter moments that required attentive listening.
Far too many of her songs repeat and ramble, and the novelty of a tune like “Dickhead” certainly gets the attention of the fans in her age group (18 to 24?). If those sorts of tunes — half the lyrics seem to come from some MySpace rant — become her calling card, Nash could well find herself pigeonholed as the trash-talking girl. On the other hand, deep in “Dickhead” and on a few other tunes, Nash curls her voice into Bjork territory, a piercing yet effective flair that could well help distinguish her from the pack that’s bound to follow.
Nash, whose album will debut in the top 25 this week in the States, heads to Australia next before a U.K. tour at the end of February through early March.