Review: Prima Queen – pop choruses and a worthy support slot at Rough Trade (7/6/2024)

Called up as an eleventh hour substitution at this year’s Dot To Dot Festival, Prima Queen’s thirty minute set of hummable choruses and effectively twinning vocals at Strange Brew that evening, felt like a somewhat fortunate happenstance. In discovering that the transatlantic best pals – Kristen McFadden hails from Chicago while Bristolian Louise MacPhail is on home turf – were supporting Birmingham indie popsters Swim Deep, a novel thought sprung to mind: “Why not go and review a support act for a change?”

Thus, I find myself in Rough Trade’s intimate back room for the slightly-earlier-than-usual 8.30pm kick off. The two mainstay ladies of Prima Queen are joined by a bandmate on drums, and ‘Chew My Cheeks’ begins with a stormy drum roll before McFadden and MacPhail’s sparse guitar lines set the groove. It’s a tune that evidences the band’s ear for a guitar pop chorus as the “Make it easy” lyrical refrain instantly burrows into the auditory cortex.

‘Back Row’ begins in slightly more ponderous vein before its incrementally more upbeat evolution from bridge to a similarly catchy chorus within which McFadden and MacPhail’s vocals adroitly meld. “Come a bit closer” McFadden says in encouraging the audience tighter to the stage, and the instruction is taken with such obedience that MacPhail quips “Whoa, whoa, back it up!”

‘Milk Teeth’ is a floaty lament, sparsely propelled by muted chords and gliding arpeggios, of not being able to let go after a long distance relationship gone wrong (“Cuz you’re the ice cream on my teeth.”) MacPhail then dons a guitar slide to execute emotive lead lines to ‘Invisible Hand’, a song “about being really sad” as McFadden informs us. The lyrics could reference post-breakup blues, but the duo’s perhaps most striking lyrics appear to reference depression as something more universal and inexplicable: “Tried to meditate and I watched what I ate/But it didn’t make it go away.”

McFadden and MacPhail then appear to engage in some private repartee between them that, except from acting as a segway to probably their best known tune, appears to have partially confused the crowd: “Everywhere we go, we look for Dylan. Is he here tonight?” McFadden then cajoles the audience to raise their hands and clap along and, later, wryly promises more audience participatory activities later. As the song goes, it’s another pleasing chorus and the alternating lead and backing melodies are McFadden and McPhail’s finest utilisation of their two pronged vocal style.

In her introduction to final tune ‘Eclipse’, McFadden gives a plug for the merch stand and promises that, while their CDs have no covers, they will happily draw anything upon request. With this final song – again, another singalong pop chorus – there’s a lingering sense that the time is right for Prima Queen to get a debut album under their belts. The experiment to cover a support act has been a successful one.

Scott Hammond