28 Mar 2012: Alhambra Paris, France
It is extremely difficult to properly convey Shara Worden, a.k.a. My Brightest Diamond, as an artist and musician. Her music clearly pays homage to the past, while simultaneously sounding as if it is forever pushing forward into unchartered territory. It’s hard to say if her strength lies in merging an eclectic mix of pieces from the past into one cohesive sound, or if she is creating something entirely new. Perhaps those are one and the same. Regardless, her performance at Alhambra in Paris left no stone unturned. Her show dabbled in elements of cabaret and kabuki theatre, it was orchestral and it was rock, it was comedic and it was heartbreaking. Yet none of these elements, alone or collectively, could properly describe the show. In the end, it was simply something of her own creation. However, as a performer, Worden becomes a little easier to pin down because of one glowing quality that pervades everything she does on stage: pure, ebullient joy.
The opening set featured Worden and her drummer Brian Wolfe, backed by an ensemble of string and brass instruments, as they worked their way through the majority of My Brightest Diamond’s latest record, All Things Will Unwind. The songs ranged from the more playful, “There’s a Rat”, which followed a rather comical anecdote about the possible origins of the song, to the more somber “She Does Not Brave The War”. The first set came to a close with Worden dancing about the stage to “High Low Middle”, a track which feels like it would be perfectly at home being performed on a city sidewalk in the early 1930s.
The second set began with a brief performance by Christine & the Queens, which featured Worden, decked out in ‘80s glam, sparkling gloves and matching top hat, as she performed a duet next to a brooding, female vocalist (presumably Christine). Backed by only a drum machine, they performed the track “Narcissus is Back”, which was steeped in enough ‘80s pop nostalgia to completely shift the tone of the evening for a brief moment. While the whole scene was a bit bizarre, only given what had come before, it left me wanting more.
Worden then came back out on stage with only a guitar and drummer Brian Wolfe. “We’re going to play an old one now”, she declared, as the opening notes to “Dragonfly” elicited a cheerful applause of recognition from the audience. They followed it with another, “older” song, “Magic Rabbit”. Both tracks are from her first solo record, 2006’s Bring Me the Workhorse. While there seems to be inexhaustible sides to her as a performer, this particular setup, her with an electric guitar and a drummer, will always be the preferred for me. It’s her at her darkest and most dynamic, her subtle, yet poignant, guitar work pitted against her soaring vocals. The set was finished off in appropriate fashion for the room, with a stunning rendition of “Hymne à l’amour” by Edith Piaf. The song, like the entire performance that preceded it, had an indefinable sort of magical quality.
I have seen better shows, or at least shows more suitable to my particular musical tastes. Not all of the music My Brightest Diamond creates is my proverbial “my cup of tea”. Even so, I have never seen anything quite like her performance, one done so beautifully and with such ease of talent. She moves effortlessly from one instrument to the next, she playfully dances about the stage only to step up to the mic and perform a chilling ballad, and then, there’s her voice. Classically trained, Worden’s voice may be the most impressive instrument in her repertoire. Her vocal floats and flutters, turns direction on a dime and administers the coup de grâce in the form of a soaring high note, sometimes all within a single lyric. By the end of her performance it became abundantly clear that, not only can she seemingly do anything, but she does it all extremely well.