Saturday, December 06, 2008

Concert Review: My Brightest Diamond in Birmingham

I'm typically of the opinion that a live show should be more vigorous and dynamic than what one puts down on record. Just because it's desirable though doesn't mean it's an easy transition to acheive. Joanna Newsom's orchestral Ys album was full of potential to fall flat on its face live with only five performers on stage. A dramatic change of instrumentation though allowed that already fresh sounding album to come to life in new and exciting ways.

Shara Worden, though, has turned convention on its ear and managed to make her frequently quiet and subtle albums even more quiet and subtle on stage. Gone are the drums/percussion (save the occasional touch of drum machine), gone are the bass and keyboards. This tour finds Worden and her guitar backed by a trio of violin, viola and cello and the occasional bit of electronics. This lineup is more conducive to material from the new album A Thousand Shark's Teeth than it is to the material on its predecessor Bring Me The Workhorse. That makes sense though as A Thousand Shark's Teeth was conceived as a series of miniatures for string quartet.

When the set opened up with a stripped down version of "Golden Star," I wasn't sure how the rest of the evening was going to turn out. It's not because it wasn't a beautiful rendition, but because there was something "wrong" about the whole thing. It took me a few songs to figure it out, but I finally decided what was wrong...and it wasn't the music. The problem is this that this music is too damn beautiful and intricate to watch while surrounded by people sipping on PBR tallboys. That's not an indictment of the crowd or the venue at all (especially seeing as I'm there all the time and many of my favorite people hang out there.) The venue did all in its power to encourage people to not talk during the show (including posting signs at the entrance) and by and large, the crowd obliged giving the music and musicians due respect. Still, in all honesty, a small recital hall would be the optimal place to see them perform in my opinion.

I couldn't help but wonder throughout the course of the evening how many people know who she's singing about when referencing modernist French composer Pierre Boulez or if the subtleties of the mbira can truly be appreciated in a rock club setting. I must say that the Javanese shadow puppets during the final song were really cool and one can only hope that people will learn a bit more about these often obscure influences that help make her one of a kind performances what they are. She's clearly one of the brightest (no pun intended), most cultured people working the indie rock circuit, but one has to wonder where exactly she'd best fit in, though I doubt fitting in is her goal (and to her credit she is forging her own path.) Her stuff is probably too cultured for widespread acceptance among the rock set, but too peculiar and "too rock and roll" for the fine arts crowd. I do know this though, she deserves every bit of success she gets and probably a whole lot more.

Tour dates:
12/06 - Knoxville, TN - Square Room
12/07 - Atlanta, GA - The Earl
12/09 - Asheville, NC - Orange Peel
12/10 - Charlottesville, VA - Gravity Lounge
12/11 - Washington, DC - Rock n' Roll Hotel
12/12 - Philadelphia, PA - First Unitarian Church
12/13 - New York, NY - (Le) Poisson Rouge

My Brightest Diamond - "Inside A Boy" MP3

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