One of modern music’s intricacies is trying to find out just how “big” is a particular artist. This can be simple in some cases, i.e: Justin Timberlake is very big while Waxahatchee is very small, but there are thousands of artists for whom you can triangulate social media presence, record sales, and media buzz, and still be way off on their actual size. Take Marina and the Diamonds for example. MatD show up all over on Tumblr and Twitter fanpages and in mash-ups online (just casually tweeting about them is enough to get fan account favorites/follows), but their highest charting album went to no. 8 in America. Their pop career in native U.K. could be generously described as transient–Electra Heart had the dubious honor of being the lowest selling number one album at the time, and its follow up FROOT peaked at no. 10. So, when you hear that they’re playing the local rock shed, you think the crowd’ll be interesting, but not the biggest draw in town.
Even after the doors opened, the line to get in Bogarts ran down both sides of the street, and on further inspection, the marquee declared the show officially sold out. Looking at the technicolor queue, I immediately realized I’d undersold how Marina’s online fanbase translated into physical bodies (I was about as immediately thankful my girlfriend leaped on this show when it was announced and we’d had tickets for months). Attribute it to any number of factors: the show being on a Friday night, last week marking the end of the year for most schools, MatD’s general likability, or the fact that no one plays Cincinnati back-to-back and if you see a show you’ve just gotta go for it, but no matter what, The Diamonds (nickname for MatD’s fanbase) were out here.
I don’t think I’ve seen a crowd as ready to go, too. The curtain stayed closed while the band set up, and the slightest bump or movement behind it elicited cheers and sustained chants of “MA-RI-NA!” for whichever sound tech was setting up a microphone. This happened at least three times. But, it was nothing compared to the exuberance that hit once Marina and the band came out and launched into “Bubblegum Bitch”, the biggest concert opener in her discography.
Marina’s music sounds expertly performed on albums, and that same presence transfers to her live show. She always played out to the crowd, invited us to sing along (which, as a baritone, was a bit daunting), and I don’t think she ever stayed entirely still; she was always dancing or strutting across the stage, and doing it with a smile. I was actually a little off in my review of FROOT: she didn’t break out a spotlight for “Happy”, but played it solo(ish) behind a keyboard, and the mass singalong was the sweetest moment of the night.
Really, it’d be hard to pick a point where the show slumped in any real way. Marina and the Diamonds aren’t going to deviate from the way they sound on record; sure, the drums hit harder and the vocals were stronger in the mix, but it’s not like “I’m a Ruin” suddenly became a power ballad. The live sound brought a little more slapstick energy to older songs like “I Am Not a Robot” and “Mowgli’s Road”, and FROOT highlights like “Blue” and the title track only sounded stronger free of the album’s echoing production. I was actually wondering about that transition before the show; FROOT was made with a guitar/bass/drums/synth band set-up, but had a heavily produced studio sound would be hard to replicate live. And, while “Better Than That” still sounded flat-footed and “I’m a Ruin” didn’t quite click, most of the songs did, with “Savages” even sounding better freed of the gauzy album sound.
You can always tell an artist’s feelings toward an album based not only on what they play at a show, but what they don’t play, either. Even as a tour supporting the album, the setlist was a venerable FROOT basket: a whooping eight songs were pulled from that record with only “Immortal”, “Weeds”, “Gold”, and “Soilitare” (a personal favorite) left untouched. Meanwhile Electra Heart, an album Marina has politely but pointedly left in her rear view, was absent for the first half of the set outside “Bubblegum Bitch”. She eventually came back for “Lies” and “Primadonna” and closed with a one-two combo of “Radioactive” (the only genuine surprise of the evening) and “How To Be a Heartbreaker”, all of which were rapturously received. A Heartless set makes some sense with MatD’s current line-up–the line-up was designed with FROOT in mind, after all–but seeing an artist take a “deep cuts, too” approach for one album and “hits only” for another tells you a lot about favorites.
Not that anyone probably minded. Marina and the Diamonds put on a stand up show in front of an adoring audience. Whenever Marina spoke to the crowd during the show, it felt personal, or as personal as you can get from fifty feet away. There’s a very genuine, mutual connection between Marina and the fans. As the lights came up, my friends and I realized (to our quarter-life crises horror) that this was an incredibly young crowd, most of which didn’t have the “beer me” wristbands you get at the door. With how intensely The Diamonds love this band, it seems understandable that the fanbase would skew young–what better time is there to have an artist be your life than as a young adult? The world finally came to them for a night, and they made the best of it. So did us bitter adults, too.