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Review: Emily Warren & The Betters at Webster Hall

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The crowd pushed close to the stage, dancing and singing along with Emily Warren & The Betters as the group finished its recent Saturday night show at Webster Hall Studio in New York City on February 12. The closing number, "Not at All," was recently featured on MTV's latest teen drama Skins, a welcome exposure boost for any young band, but the quartet didn't seem interested in capitalizing on any association with Music Television -- putting on a loud, energetic live performance was the order of the evening instead.

Although bassist Gab Bowler and his brother, drummer Etienne Bowler, have been playing with Warren for a couple of years, the group recently reformed under its current moniker, along with the keyboard player Matt Porter, releasing a self titled EP in October. The material included there has a more aggressive dance feeling than Warren's earlier recordings, and that approach was pushed up another notch during her concert. Dressed in black and silver studs with a guitar slung over her shoulder, she fronted her band, all in black suits and skinny ties, through the driving introduction to "Bottom Line" to open the show. The following "You'll Regret This" featured excellent drumming and washes of keyboard effects -- in fact many of the songs in the set burst out of brief, dense barrages of sound and hit the ground running with a bouncy, old school rock steady groove.

Earlier in her career Emily leaned closer toward a singer/songwriter vein, but her lyrics and vocal stylings still shine through the more intense, and in some ways more sophisticated, instrumentation of her current set up. Her delivery is made up of not quite equal parts rhythmic gesture (you can hear the backbeat in much of her singing) and a modulated jazz inflection with which she toys with the ends of lines. It's an enticing combination that was particularly clear on "Let Me In" played mid-show, a swooning Golden Age rock and roll heartbreaker of a number. Much of her material presents an appealing combination of intimacy and recognizable pathos -- it leaves you wanting to know more, even though the feeling is familiar -- but it doesn't whine or simper. If anything her songwriting is characterized by a rejection of rejection.

Emily Warren & The Betters debuted two new songs at Webster Hall, the second, "Red Flag," being a stand out, showing the group's promise as it moves forward. They perform next on March 5 at The Cake Shop in New York City. For more information check out www.myspace.com/emilywarrenmusic.