Champion of Love provides an exciting glimpse at what Nyssa is capable of live.
Sometimes a record just doesn’t do the music justice. Yes, listening to a record is less risky, more comfortable and always leaves me feeling less sleep deprived, but sometimes you simply must see it live. I learned this lesson at a Fucked Up show, a band whose music is best heard on record and whose essence and dynamic are best understood on the stage. However, it was not Fucked Up that blew my mind that night in Toronto, it was Nyssa.
With her set sandwiched between Toronto-based, back-to-basics hardcore band Mil-Spec and Fucked Up, Nyssa—who released her debut EP Champion of Love in the spring—had no choice but to grab the audience by the throat. She did that and more. By the end of her set, most of the audience had been converted to the church of Nyssa. She taught the packed Horseshoe Tavern that all you need to command a room is a huge voice, a good strut, and attitude, lots of attitude. No instruments or gimmicks required. By the end of the first chorus of the first song, she was drawing everyone in with her energy.
Armed with just a microphone, Nyssa told complex stories, amplified by this sort of fascist pop-rock-disco fusion she creates. I went back and forth on whether a live band would have made it better. By the end of the show, it was clear she was enough. Nyssa is punk in a way that transcends fashion or even ethos. She just seems dangerous. Like Elvis or the Wu-Tang Clan; Nina Simone or Madonna. I understand it’s unlikely Nyssa will blow the world open like any of these examples, but there is this confrontational nature in Nyssa’s stage presence, voice, and tired eyes that made me feel like I was witnessing an artist that could be earth-shattering.
There were surely more songs played that night than just the ones that appear on Champion of Love, but it still provides an exciting glimpse at what Nyssa is capable of. Her music is fun to clean the house to, fun to dance to, sing along to, and is probably fun to both fuck and fight to. It has flashes of Queen, Abba, Springsteen and Journey. It’s campy but completely sincere. The album’s best track, “Angelica”–A-N-G-E-L-I-C-A *clap* *clap*– gives you the fullest sense of what Nyssa is capable of vocally and as a songwriter. Over cheesy 80’s hard-rock synths and massive drums, she sings of working-class love, pitiful nights, ice cream and hot dogs. The song’s grand finale also gives you the best sense of what she can do live; unafraid of a big note or a showy vocal run, and sure to whip the crowd into a fervour.
Don’t get me wrong, every song on Champion of Love is an anthem and the project as a whole is highly satisfying. She embodies different characters and she plays with gender; there is class-consciousness, feminism, and clear sense that these songs can free you from the chains of modern life if only for a few minutes. But I assure you, to understand Nyssa you need to see her sing these songs, command a stage and an audience and bare witness to her larger-than-life power. She might not be ready to change the world just yet, but she just might change your life.
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