The bigger and better Marina and the Diamonds swept through the 9:30 Club Tuesday night, demanding and pretty much receiving all of the attention she could handle.
But first, Brooklyn-based MS MR opened for Marina at the ridiculously sold-out show. I can remember few times the 9:30 Club seemed more packed. After doing some research on the opener on the Internet before the show and finding precious little, I confess I was pleasantly surprised with their show. MS MR got a very busy room rocking in preparation for Marina’s performance.
MS MR, whose member names still remain unknown to me, appeared as a quartet with female vocalist, two gents on keyboards and another on drums. For quite a few songs in their eight-song set, one of the keyboardists switches out to a guitar. Some of the band’s favorites, according to a YouTube playlist, include New Order, The Long Blondes, Sufjan Stevens, and Glass Candy — none of which comes as a surprise. However, MS MR themselves are a much more rockin’ affair with their blonde lead singer wiggling and swaying at the microphone, dressed and dancing like a jazz club chanteuse ready to heat things up. Immediately after their set, the fill music included The Supremes and Shania Twain, and I gotta say MS MR definitely takes a big piece of the sound of both and melds them into their own unique synth-driven experience.
The eight songs by MS MR included their first single, “Hurricane,” which was a stormy boomer compared to the more crystalline version I heard online. The versatile band and their honey-voiced chanteuse moved easily from song to song, each one setting a slightly different kind of ambiance from sounding a bit like Shivaree (and “Goodnight Moon”) in one song to adopting almost a tribal beat in another to adding a very new wave shine to a cover of Patrick Wolf’s “Time of My Life.”
All in all, MS MR are quite impressive, particularly for a band that hasn’t put out their first LP yet.
Marina, our Primadonna Girl, did not disappoint either. In a review of the show, The Washington Post called her the United Kingdom’s answer to Katy Perry and that really kinda nails it for those unfamiliar with her. Marina Diamandis is actually Marina and the Diamonds all by herself but she was accompanied by a full band playing two keyboards, a guitar, a bass and a drum. For several of the better songs, like the encore’s “Teen Idle,” Marina sits alone at a piano and strums the keys solo, similar somewhat to the more intimate performances of Lady Gaga.
Make no mistake, however. While Marina’s increasingly flashy performances can draw some comparisons to her American counterparts, her music is an entirely different thing altogether. For a large part, her songs are biting, indulgent and frolicking declarations of intent or regret writ large. Together, her two albums to date create a sort of manifesto — not only along the lines of “I am woman, hear me roar,” but hear me roar, cajole and pout while I dance and strut. Marina and her collaborators ultimately are better song writers than the American divas.
Marina’s newly released second album, Electra Heart, is a bit of a concept album, offering up pictures of a self-obsessed lovely with titles like “Bubblegum Bitch,” “Primadonna,” and “Homewrecker,” the first song of the set and decidedly a fresh new anthem for our girl from Wales. The stage is set for the concept as a living room, complete with curtain, rug, settee, and coat rack, upon which hangs several quick costume pieces, which she throws on and off for several songs. She emerges for the first time for “Homewrecker,” for example, adorned in a bridal dress with a very short skirt. After the song, she retires to the coat rack and picks up the next costume accessory. Much later, Marina makes a full costume change offstage before sashaying through “Bubblegum Bitch,” adding a pageant sash to her ensemble from the coat rack. “Miss Shellfish Beach,” it reads.
“It’s the only pageant I ever won but I’m proud of it,” she coos.
Marina electrified her audience with 18 songs total and they loved every minute of it. An incredible mass of 18-year-old girls flocked to the front of the stage, where they sang along with almost every word of every song. The bold numbers from the first album were particular favorites for singalongs — “I am Not a Robot” and “Shampaign” being personal favorites. Those songs in particular are so achingly good in part due to their total embrace of new wave sound. The melodies mature a bit on the second album but it’s still quintessentially guitars and synths chiming in the signature sound of the Second British Invasion from the 1980s — a sound that disappeared from American music for quite some time but never truly went away across the pond.
I’ve seen Marina three times now — all three times at the 9:30 Club — and her show is getting bigger and more ambitious each time. Should her audiences continue to grow at such a rapid pace, she’s going to have to book the Strathmore or Merriweather Post Pavilion the next time around. In person, Marina actually seems really sweet but her outsized stage persona is eventually going to require an even bigger stage.