Thursday, September 20, 2007

my brightest diamond @ nice n' sleazy, 9/18/07

as much as i love bringing you guys the finest concert footage my camera can take, i decided on a different tack for tuesday's my brightest diamond show. i've been feeling a little trapped behind the lens, a little too consumed by getting the best possible pictures and not concentrating enough on the performance. so, since i'd been looking forward to a full set from my brightest diamond since march and i knew exactly how good it was going to be, i decided to leave my camera at home and let nothing get between me and the show. so, even though this review might be lacking a bit visually, i had a great time (and, honestly, the space didn't allow for much in the way of exciting photography anyway).

after my big hate-on of glasgow's abc, i was thrilled to not be going there for this show, and, luckily, nice n' sleazy turned out to not be that sleazy at all (just a little cramped). the show was in the basement, little more than a bar with a stage at the other end of the room, and the medium-sized crowd was able to just sit at the tables and take in the magic. blessed with clearly the best soundman in all of scotland (first time i haven't needed earplugs at a gig on this continent!), nice n' sleazy might just be the best venue in glasgow.

fresh from a set at the end of the road festival in dorset, shara worden (a.k.a. my brightest diamond) had gotten a new set of bandmates for her european tour, though they are traveling without a consistent support act. therefore, it was up to the promoter to tip an opening act, and they picked glaswegian singer/songwriter ross clark. the gig poster proudly heralded him as "bright eyes trapped in buddy holly's body," not the best way to curry mr. mammoth's favor (he doesn't like bright eyes, no sir). fortunately, we didn't see the poster until after the show, so i was able to digest clark's tunes without prejudice.

a clever performer, clark alternated between furious, violent strumming and delicate picking, retreating from the mic or venturing into the crowd, more engaging than many singer/songwriters dare to be. he does look like buddy holly, with bushy hair and black plastic frames, the ends of strings protruding dangerously from the head of his guitar, but neither he nor bright eyes are clark's closest musical comrade. the name that first came to my mind when clark began to sing was eef barzelay, the thin-voiced apocalyptic frontman of clem snide. while clark's voice is less nasal and deeper, both barzelay (who hails from nashville) and the glaswegian have an audible drawl that makes any hearer listen a little closer, intrigued from the first without being able to recognize why. clark ambled through a selection of songs from his debut ep anthems in clams, enjoying his turn on stage in front of a friendly crowd (as in, a crowd with lots of his friends in it).

clark's greatest asset is not his songwriting - while more accomplished than most garden variety singer/songwriters, he is no virtuoso - but his lyricism, displaying age and wit that belie his fresh-faced appearance. my knowledge of his song titles extend only to the songs streaming on his myspace and "soul girl," a new song he introduced during the set, so i am unable to really cite the highlights of his performance, but one lyric of his closing song was so good that i had to scribble it down: clark sang "1, 2, 3, 4" acapella and we thought it was just a countoff, until he belted "i declare a thumb war!" at the top of his lungs, reducing the room to involuntary laughter. his phrasing, in particular, is unique, premeditated stream-of-consciousness lyrics that rarely revolved around a chorus. while impressive, his verbosity occasionally made songs drag, especially "anthems in clams," which already stretches past the five minute mark. as a backdrop for his musings, however, his music fit very well indeed. too competent to be raw, yet too honest to sound refined, clark rarely let his guitar take center stage, but when it did, he made sure it was with a flourish.

playing to a hometown crowd of friends, ross clark was at ease and gave a solid set as an opener. though sometimes burdened by his unwieldy verses and lack of choruses, plaintive but never plain, it is obvious that ross clark is not an ordinary singer/songwriter.

my brightest diamond's 2006 debut, bring me the workhorse, was one of my favorite albums of the year, the lines between rock, opera, and classical music blurred till invisible, caressed by shara worden's preternatural vocals and dynamic song structuring. another reason i enjoyed it so much was that it left you wanting; the restraint in worden's voice and arrangements made you ache for more, but by not blowing the proverbial load on the album, my brightest diamond was virtually assured of a expectant live audience, waiting for the volume and exhilaration buried inside bring me the workhorse. i had been waiting months to see my brightest diamond headline, and, on tuesday night, they gave me nearly everything i had hoped for (but, sadly, not "freak out").

the crowd at nice n' sleazy was awfully quiet tuesday night, so much so that worden remarked on it herself. yet neither i nor anyone else felt the need to speak, to break the magic - and magic is exactly what my brightest diamond sounds like. the adjectives we've seen to describe worden's music ("mystical," "ethereal," "dark," "tender," and by far the most common, "operatic") all do her credit, but none can do her sound justice. my brightest diamond is all of these things, but its greatest quality is in worden's ability to cast very real spells over her listeners. as we sat in the half-light, watching worden wail - her voice resonating with a power her small frame disguises - the magic of my brightest diamond finally, truly became physical.

search for "my brightest diamond live" on google or the hype machine, and one thing instantly becomes clear - shara worden loves covers. each of her performances seems to contain at least one cover, yet it never seems to be the same one twice. for the show on tuesday, we heard only one - "it's over" by roy orbison. worden gave the song an uncharacteristically long preamable, a meandering story about how distressing it would be to, in preparation for a country dance with a significant other, have purchased a spiffy tie or dress, only to have said significant other dump you prior to the dance, yet, because of the purchase of additionally said fashionable item, you decide to go to the dance alone, only to hear "it's over" played as soon as you walk in the door - the joke is that "it's over" opening lyrics are "your baby doesn't love you," - though by the time my brightest diamond got the punchline, most of the crowd was so confused that we didn't realize we were supposed to laugh (if you thought my condensed version was hard, trying to figure it out on the fly was much more of a challenge). yet aside from small, between-song blips like that, however, mbd's set was flawless, and, gratifyingly, very relaxed.

my brightest diamond obviously felt at ease, and worden accordingly cracked jokes, had a dance-off with her bassist, and remained unfazed even when one of her strings snapped mid-song. the only thing that gave her pause was the glaswegian language barrier, as an over-appreciative crowd member yelled that he liked the drummer's work in rapeman - an ambitious statement, considering rapeman hasn't been around for nearly twenty years. for worden, however, the claim was lost in translation, and so the heckler's yell was the only real hitch in an otherwise flawless show.

my brightest diamond's set opened with a stunning version of "golden star," one of bring me the workhorse's best songs, and its dark beauty set the tone for the whole show. aside from the cover, "riding horses," a song worden originally recorded as awry, and one new song ("inside a boy"), mbd's set came entirely from their full-length, including a spine-tingling version of "we were sparkling," complete with music box. "disappear" was another set highlight, worden's smoldering voice almost melting with suspense and romance. we heard a gorgeous version of "magic rabbit," my favorite mbd song, so haunting that the hair on the back of my neck stood up. like dorothy boyd, my brightest diamond had us from the moment they walked onstage. after their thunderous conclusion of "workhorse," we remained stunned, by what we had just seen, not knowing whether to clap for an encore or to savor the spell that had just been broken.

while worden has made no formal statement about a new my brightest diamond album, it seems clear that there will be one from all the new songs they have played over the past several months. they are midway through a european tour that concludes on october 5, and are starting a north american one in november. i will certainly be seeing them again on nov. 17 in new york - i wouldn't miss it for the world.

listen to a session with shara worden on mpr's the current here.

my brightest diamond - "workhorse." buy bring me the workhorse here.

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