Monday, October 25, 2010

Marina and the Diamonds / Cocknbullkid @ The Town Hall, Saturday 23rd October 2010

MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS - OH NO! from Canella Jolia on Vimeo.

It’s heartening to see Birmingham’s Town Hall being used for poppier gigs and I’m guessing this is the poppiest to date. It’s a sell out too, with throngs of eager young diamonds (the ‘diamonds’ in the name of the band apparently refers to Marina’s bless) swarming into the venue.

First up though there’s just enough time to slip in a bit of cock...steady now...nbullkid. Known to her dear old mum and dad as Anita, Cocknbullkid’s been around for a few years, picking up plenty of praise from the press but failing to capitalise on it all with that difficult debut album. Happily she’s now signed to the uber cool Moshi Moshi label so the sweet pop soul that’s becoming her trademark sound might finally get more of an airing. Starting the gig offstage (maybe she was still getting dressed?) she kicked off with a soaring ‘Bellyache’ before moving on to current single ‘One Eye Closed’, its vaguely ‘Peter Gunn’ guitar licks adding a nice sense of menace to an otherwise full on pop assault (not unlike the sort of thing McAlmont and Butler were up to a few years back). She’s a fine live vocalist and plenty of the tracks hit the spot. ‘Hold On To Your Misery’ had a nice Philly soul feel, ‘Cocknbullkid’ employed some catchy ‘whoa whoas’ to sing along with and ‘Mexico’ broke rank with more of a staccato synth thing going on. The audience seemed to warm nicely to her as the set wore on and, after several years of missed opportunities, the kid might now finally get in the picture.

After a quick interlude the hall filled up again and a semi erotic James Bond / Tales of the Unexpected scene played out on the back screens before a surprisingly goth looking Marina (little black dress and black lipstick) arrived wearing what looked like a tribble round her neck. It’s pop Jim but not as we know it. I have to admit I knew very little of Marina’s stuff before tonight so I was expecting something fairly light and fluffy but, after a quick intro courtesy of ‘The Family Jewels’, opening number ‘The Outsider’, a decidedly dark tale of alienation, more than matched her look. The other striking thing was that voice, a lush hybrid fusion of Kate Bush, Regina Spector and Tori Amos. Classy. ‘Girls’ took things up a little, with Marina railing against the calorie obsessed before the pounding piano of ‘Seventeen’, with its intriguing lyrics (the subject of much debate on t’web), plunged us back into angst central. As an opening to the show it was a brave, emotionally raw introduction to planet Marina, clearly here’s a girl who ain’t afraid to get it all out in the open. The soul baring carried on with ‘Are You Satisfied?’, seemingly revealing that the record deal that she thought would change her life hasn’t actually made the difference she thought it would and putting forward the worrying idea that she’ll never be actually be satisfied with her lot (fame, fortune, adoring sure as hell beats working in McDonalds though eh?). ‘Rootless’, probably the weakest track of the set (“I’m a snail without a shell, a leper with a golden bell”) gave way to the frankly bonkers ‘Hermit The Frog’, which saw Marina’s arms controlled by two bunches of red (sadly not glass) balloons that she handed out to the fans towards the end of the number before popping off for a quick costume change, leaving us all watching a rather odd video of her prowling the streets somewhere in America , stroking strange men and licking her fingers. I prefer a nice bowl of hummus myself.

‘I Am Not A Robot’ saw more soul searching and, by this stage, I was starting to get it. As Marina herself went on to say later in the show “this ain’t an act or a marketing ploy”, it really does mean as much to her as it does to her ‘diamonds’ lot out front. It’s performance as therapy, which could be painful but happily she’s not forgotten the need for a decent tune and a bit of fun here and there. ‘Oh No’ for instance might be a savage critique on today celeb culture but it’s all bundled up in a deliciously bubbly pop jacket, as glossy as the pop art inspired video that played along behind the stage. Pow. That’s followed by the catchiest tune of the night ‘Shampain’. This is what all Eurovision songs should sound like, electropop heaven with just the right touch of camp and a chorus that Abba would murder Benny for. Angst one minute, pop heaven the next, shine on you crazy diamond. Just in case we were in any doubt as to Marina’s state of mind the next track, ‘Mowgli’s Road’ puts us straight with an opening barrage of cuckoo noises. Hmmmm...

After another deeply dark track, ‘Guilty’, Marina skips off to rousing applause before returning for a solo ‘Numb’ (just her and a piano), underlining her clear debt to Ms Amos and Dame Spector. Then, in best Hollywood tradition it was time for the big finish with a track called, suitably enough, ‘Hollywood’. After a quick costume change she’s reappears in stars and stripes pants (that’s trousers if you’re reading this in the UK), gold $ sunglasses and carrying a huge burger. Perhaps more than any other track tonight this summed up what Marina’s all about. Enthralled and appalled by the ‘American Dream’ in equal measure (I daresay she wouldn’t say no to a few number ones out there) it neatly reflects the duality of her personality that runs through many of her songs. She seems insecure and confident, flirty and reserved, sickened and yet seduced by fame. She’s far from the first performer to wrestle with these contradictions but there aren’t many artists around right now who make it sound so damn good. Judging by the well deserved devotion she’s breeding in her fans her particular brand of pop angst is striking a real chord right now too, which is good news...after all, diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

Set List
The Family Jewels (intro) / The Outsider / Girls / Seventeen / Are You Satisfied? / Rootless / Hermit The Frog / interlude (costume change) / I Am Not A Robot / Obsessions / Jealously / Oh No! / Shampain / Mowgli’s Road / Guilty

Numb / Hollywood

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