Shortly after Doe Paoro exited the stage following her superb set at The Sinclair in Cambridge, Massachusetts Monday night, Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band emerged from backstage, playing just about every type of horn instrument in existence along with drummers and even a flutist. And their outfits were as loud as their instruments, decorated with glow in the dark things and Christmas lights. And those outfits were, I believe, traditional Scottish garb, most if not all of the men wearing kilts and top hats. Check out their Youtube station and see for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/user/EmperorNortonSMB
And it was no coincidence that the marching band was there. By the time they’d walked from the floor of the club out into the lobby where they would play for roughly twenty minutes I’d figured it out: My Brightest Diamond’s new album is loaded with horns galore. Surely, they had to be there to perform with her. And I was correct. As I turned my attention from the band to the stage I spotted Shara Worden, otherwise known as My Brightest Diamond, standing there, looking happy as could be, patiently waiting for them. As they finished their cabaret-ish set, they made their way back across the floor and headed up onto the stage where they stood in back, taking up at least two thirds of the space. Then Shara, her bassist, and drummer, and the marching band all began playing “Pressure,” the opening track from This Is My Hand, Shara’s grade A new record. And it was brilliant. Truly brilliant, hearing all of these wonderful musicians joining together to play what is essentially a very organic but ridiculously catchy pop song. You might think Shara’s voice would have been drowned out with all of the boisterous horns, but her voice is so powerful that it remained at the forefront. Obviously, the guys at the sound board had something to do with that, but even rendered high in the mix most artists would not have held their own on stage with a literal wall of sound behind them. But then Shara is no ordinary artist. Her voice is such that she could easily be singing opera right now if she so desired. In fact, there are many moments during her songs when she hits huge notes and to see her hit them live in concert was mind-blowing. I actually found myself wondering if glass was going to start shattering behind the bar at one point.
Once the thrilling rendition of “Pressure” concluded the marching band left the stage and did not return, Shara opting to perform the horns and woodwinds in her other new songs via keyboards and other electronics. I think the main reason why she didn’t keep them on for the whole set was that she didn’t have time to rehearse more than the one song with them, being that she’s on the road and probably just met up with them earlier yesterday or the day before. You see, Emperor Norton’s band is based out of Boston and is not out on the road with her. (She’s probably working with different marching bands in each city she plays. Can anyone confirm this?) The fact that they managed to pull off such an exquisite performance of “Pressure” with so little time to practice was truly astounding. And it made me feel alive in a way that concerts haven’t done for me in years.
Much of the set last night – 17 songs, if I counted correctly – consisted of songs from This Is My Hand and they all sounded superb. In fact, Shara is such a perfectionist that she kept pausing to tune her guitar here and there throughout the set. I imagine some of the songs needed to be tuned down or up so she had to make changes for that reason as well. Of course, rather than tuning on stage, many artists will use a few different guitars throughout their set, but Shara always kept the crowd engaged while she was tuning, telling funny little stories. And you couldn’t complain because each performance she did after tuning her guitar was flawless. One highlight was “I Am Not the Bad Guy,” an irresistible song with an especially funky bass guitar line, pop beats and sonorous horns.
Shortly into performing “Before The Words,” Shara remembered a story that inspired the song and stopped playing it to tell it. In this story, if I understood her correctly, the first thing to appear on earth was an owl because they have big eyes and are meant to observe. So, “before the words,” there was the owl. And so she had the audience practice the part of the song that goes “who ooo ooo” (or something like that) so that we could sing along during the performance, which she then started again from the top. The song is from This Is My Hand where it’s one of the the most contagious songs on an album loaded with infectious tunes and Shara’s charisma is such that you’d think she’d hypnotized the entire audience because when it got to the “who ooo ooo” parts everyone was singing along. I looked around and couldn’t find one person not singing.
In addition to doing marvelous renditions of the inspiring “Be Brave” and the super intense “Lover Killer,” Shara also performed a couple of covers last night. First she put on a black top hat and delivered a sultry rendition of the Elvis classic “Fever.” If she hadn’t already seduced everyone in the audience, she certainly hooked them there. Later, for the final song of the evening, she did a powerful cover of the Nina Simone classic “Feeling Good.”
I’ve been a fan of My Brightest Diamond since the beginning and so I’d been wanting to see her for years. Trouble is, when you wait and wait to see an artist like that, your expectations go up, up, up. You put them up on this pedestal that they can’t possibly live up to. Like when you go to Vegas to see Britney Spears and discover that she’s lip synching the entire show. Suffice to say that I’d placed My Brightest Diamond on my highest pedestal and was prepared to be a little disappointed. I mean, I knew she wouldn’t suck, but I didn’t think she would hit the high notes live or that she’d play too few songs from the new record. There would be some element where I’d be wishing she’d done something differently. But she exceeded my expectations in every possible way. I walked away feeling inspired and happy as could be. And I have a feeling that you would, too, so go see her when she comes to your city.
I apologize for not having any photos from the show to accompany this review, as my photographer was unable to make the show and my camera takes terrible photos in the dark unless you use flash, which you’re not allowed to do at concerts because it distracts the artists.