Tuesday, September 7, 2010

In The Rough.


Me: "I'm going to a concert tonight."

Friend: "Oh, who?"

Me: "Marina & the Diamonds."

Friend: (blank stare)

And so it goes. If I thought it was hard trying to find people who'd heard of Robyn when I attended last month's show, I found even fewer who had discovered Marina & the Diamonds. This is despite the fact that Marina burst onto the music scene seemingly out of nowhere last May, having already hit it pretty big overseas in her native United Kingdom (she hails from Wales). It was an indie-sized explosion.

But you need to make a pretty big splash nowadays to get the mainstream wet, so Marina is still far from a household name. Who is she? She's Lilly Allen after some anger management classes, Florence + the Machine without the dagger in her heart, Bjork from a planet a little closer to Earth - ie, she might wear that swan costume, but she'd be a little more in on the joke.

"TV taught me how to feel, now real life has no appeal."
Her lyrics point to feeling lonely and disaffected in modern times, but without any accompanying melancholy - her tunes are poppy and upbeat. When she sings, "Girls, they never befriend me / 'cause I fall asleep when they speak / of all the calories they eat" in "Girls," it perfectly encapsulates her outsider status amidst today's more traditional pop artists, but Marina isn't feeling sorry for herself. Marina's songs celebrate being smarter, sassier, and more unique than the masses, which is why her relative obscurity works so well. Could the mainstream ever truly embrace her, when she spends most of her time making fun of them?

More fun facts: according to Marina (whose last name is Diamandis), "the Diamonds" are not the band that backs her up, but rather us - her adoring fans, who indeed believe they have found something sparkly and special amidst today's pop music rough.

And, if you take everything on Wikipedia at face value, she also "has a synesthetic condition that involves seeing musical notes and days of the week in different colours." What? That's crazy!

Given her unusual persona, playful lyrics, and a style of singing that, while sonorous, always suggests that she's "doing a voice" to make us laugh, I was quite curious to see what Ms. Diamandis would sound like live and what her persona would be. I could envision her being somber and a little spacey, like Bjork, or making bold, ambitious political statements, like Sinead O'Connor, or being laid-back and too humble to take on any persona at all, like she belonged at Lilith Fair. Thankfully, Marina did not assume any of these roles.

Let's just say I was not disappointed.

Unlike at Robyn's show, where I feared for the future of humanity because the crowd was so gay, the typical Marina & the Diamonds fan is not as gay as you might think. This, perhaps, can be attributed partially to her indie darling cred in the music scene, and mostly to how damn hot she is in her "Hollywood" video.

But at her New York City Webster Hall appearance, Marina was not going for "sexy," per se. Or if she was, well, girl's got a screw loose. Marina emerged in a full-body black velvet dress looking like some combination of a 19th century vampire straight out of Transylvania, a cast member from Dynasty, and an escaped mental patient. Which is to say, she looked awesome. Throughout the show she sported an assortment of nutty eyewear, including sunglasses with peace signs and sunglasses with dollar signs. The sense of humor so prevalent in her music remains intact on stage - I was relieved that Marina's primary interest seems to be in having fun and making sure her fans do, too. She comes off a lot like her music - unusual, breezy, easy to like, and meaningful only if you're really paying attention.

She sang "I Am Not A Robot" bathed in blue lights that made her look, if not like a robot, rather like one of the Na'vi in James Cameron's Avatar, wielding glow-in-the-dark pink hearts that matched her glow-in-the-dark hot pick lipstick. She serenaded two oversized hamburgers in "Hollywood," in which she tells us, "I'm obsessed with the mess that's America." Indeed, many of her songs seem to poke fun at our culture and Western culture in general, and Marina repeated that sentiment many times throughout the night: "I'm obsessed with you!" She claimed London isn't her home - New York is.

Marina got a little more soulful playing keyboard on "Numb" and then "Obsessions," then went back to bringing down the house, dancing to my personal fave, "Oh No!" When she said goodnight, quite a few people made their way toward the exits despite the fact that the lights hadn't even come up in a faux-closing. Moments later, prompted by her Diamonds' effervescent enthusiasm, Marina returned - much to the surprise of those who had already left their spots near the front of the stage, stopping right in front of me instead. "She's singing again!" one hissed. Have they never been to a concert before? Despite this distraction, I soon became lost in the music again as Marina serenaded us with a downbeat interpretation of 3OH!3's "Starstrukk," totally transforming the frat-boy prankishness of the original's "L-O-V-E's just another word I never learned to pronounce" into something stirring and beautiful.

Marina never forgets to have fun, though - her biggest applause was for the wisdom: "Drink to forget, but never forget to drink!"

So if you haven't yet, do yourself a favor and catch up with everyone else who's on top of it. I have included some videos so you can do just that.

Not a robot,


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