CMAT’s live show was already one-of-a-kind. A tight-knit backing band, an excessive amount of glitter, in-between chat worthy of stand-up comedy accolades, and the occasional cameo from an entourage of dancing drag queens. Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson seemed to already have things pretty much figured out when touring her debut LP If My Wife New I’d Be Dead.
But 2023 is a new year, and with it comes a new album. CMAT’s sophomore release Crazymad, For Me is a work so theatrical, so melodramatic, so gut-punching in its highs and lows that it deserves a live show even more spectacular. At the 02 Ritz, CMAT continued her career as a bonafide show-stopper, with a live spectacle reeking of ambition, sensuality, and catharsis, armed with a new batch of pantomime pop and a show perhaps more refined than ever before.
CMAT began her set with new album opener ‘California’ – a song blooming out of moody guitars into a glamorous release. ‘California’ continues the pre-defined CMAT routine – opening an album with the assertive desire to move away – but twists it into something new. The “cowboy boots”, “tickets to the rodeo”, and crying to “K-Pop and tequila shots” of previous album opener ‘Nashville’ have been exchanged for the embittered, capitalistic calling of making a Hollywood movie out of a tumultuous breakup (“They’re gonna do it with the Coen brothers!”).
Whilst Nashville felt like an attempted escape from the self, ‘California’ takes the escape to areas more absurd, more twisted, and more cynically glamorous. CMAT danced to the chorus as if bathed in the Californian sun, glimpsing at herself in the large, fluorescent-red mirror at the back of the stage. The mirror’s presence worked itself into the song – as if the singer/songwriter was already in the process of mapping out the film’s shots in her reflection. She followed in the footsteps of music-meets-the-visual arts, owing to Pulp’s ‘This Is Hardcore’ (“I wanna make a movie, so let’s star in it together”) or Talking Heads’ ‘Found A Job’ (“Judie’s in the bedroom, inventing situations…”).
‘California’ then led into the trance-like ‘I… Hate Who I Am When I’m Horny’. When Crazymad, For Me’s track-listing became visible, this song seemed the obvious moment of light comic relief. Nobody expected it to be perhaps the moodiest cut on the album.
Ethereal piano echoed across the venue, and a brooding drum pattern, almost tribal, marched along to CMAT’s quivering footsteps. The vocal was delivered with nervous, breathless desire. And yet this desire was always undercut with Catholic shame, self-loathing and a lack of identity -“‘And I wanna have grace… I was born with no face…” Since the If My Wife New I’d Be Dead tour, the songs had only gotten more complex, and the on-stage choreography had only gotten more visceral. And this was only the opening ten minutes.
The plethora of hits, both old and new, kept on coming: the Sally Rooney-verse anthem ‘I Don’t Really Care For You’, ‘Peter Bogdanovich’ (perhaps the spiritual, albeit unused, theme of Conversations With Friends), the sleep-deprived, maniacal melodies of ‘2 Wrecked 2 Care’, and the new fan-favourite ‘Whatever’s Inconvenient’. With mentions of greasy mullets and Mark E. Smith, the latter felt almost hand-picked for a Manchester crowd.
The CMAT back-catalogue has expanded considerably since her last tour, with singles ‘Whatever’s Inconvenient’, ‘Stay For Something’, and ‘Have Fun!’ already ingrained into her fanbase’s hearts. A streaming string of devotees shouted along to each and every word, as if these songs had been out for half of their lives (some have only been out for a few months).
CMAT’s discography, even more so in CrazyMad, For Me, is a discography that invites – no, forces – audience involvement. Emotionally loaded and thematically resonant, both the singer/songwriter and her audience united in dredging up difficult emotions together, feeling them in their painful complexity, and simultaneously expelling them via sing-alongs, swaying, and a lot of cowboy-boot stomping. It was a show which was overwhelming at times, a performance that evoked the singer’s regrets and tribulations as much as her enthralled audience’s. Our pleasures mixed with our pains – perhaps the mark of a truly great performer and writer.
CMAT’s discography is already rightfully acclaimed, but it was her live performance that surged the material with an even more potent electrical current – as if the singer had zapped the songs with a cattle prod. The label “singer/songwriter” doesn’t do justice to CMAT’s masterful live performance – she mixed shameless pantomime antics, Lindsey Kemp mime work, as well as mindless, impulsive outbursts of movement, to craft a tour-defining performance. She skipped, screamed, and swayed through the set, always with a mirror image reflected behind her to double the erratic movements.
With a tussle of limbs, a whirl of red hair, and a confrontational presence as gut-punching as her new album, CMAT showcased herself as one of the most entertaining and urgent live acts in contemporary music… perhaps, even of all time.
“It’s so great playing here in Manchester… or, should I say CMATchester? No, sorry. That was awful,” CMAT mused with her crowd. However, she didn’t need to apologise. It was a fitting comment for a performer who, for an hour or so, had her own little microcosm of Manchester in the palm of her hand.