Watching Kate Nash perform is like seeing two different snapshots. The first perfectly captures this moment in time, when young female singer-songwriters are busting out as quickly as they can put up MySpace pages streaming their increasingly conversational confessions. The second displays the timeless sight of a young woman caught between a petulant adolescence and the blossoming of worldly, and sometimes defeating, wisdom.
Monday night at the Paradise both images were endearing, and a bit exasperating, as the UK pop singer settled into her inaugural US tour.
Working through her critically-hailed debut "Made of Bricks" and a few new tunes, Nash and her four-piece band gave a spirited performance that was never rushed by their obvious excitement or the enthusiastic participation of the sold-out crowd.
Uptempo rockers such as "Pumpkin Soup" got an infusion of muscularity through Nash's own piano-pounding and the satisfying rumble and bump of the rhythm section.
It was on the ballads, however, that Nash's voice as a songwriter came through most strongly. The acoustic "Birds" - chronicling a lazily romantic afternoon in which a boy fumbles through an expression of admiration to an outwardly cool but secretly thrilled girl - was a showcase for the 20-year-old's gift for detail and vulnerability.
The new song "I Hate Seagulls" had a similar wistfulness. Nash crooned a laundry list of things she likes and despises that perfectly encapsulated the ideals that adults often dismiss as hopelessly romantic but secretly wish were true.
Whether speak-singing in her Cockney accent about a night out with the girls, or about the sparring match at the center of her desperate yet poppy hit "Foundations," Nash isn't delicate with her language. Casual profanity and colloquialisms pepper the lyrics. Over the course of 90 minutes, all that sassiness and vulgarity adds up, leeching some of the charm from her conversational style.
A late-in-the-show foray into what Nash described as her "angriest song to date," "Model Behaviour," took a major left turn into punk rhythms and unrestrained caterwauling. It looked awfully cathartic as Nash hopped around unleashing her inner Patti Smith, but it was a jarring detour, like a page from a horror yarn being inserted into the final chapter of a chick lit novel.
The kitschy Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players opened the night with their offbeat shtick - accompanying random slide shows with cutesy, narrative songs - to a half-baffled, half-mesmerized audience.
Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org