The venue for UMS’ presentation of Detroit multi-instrumentalist chanteuse (and Ypsi High graduate) Shara Worden’s three-piece outfit, My Brightest Diamond, could have proved to be treacherous. Ann Arbor’s venerable Downtown Home & Garden/Bill’s Beer Garden space instead provided a unique concert experience. Ducking and dodging pottery, buckets of chicken feed and bails of hay was necessary to get the proper backstage vantage points at this sold-out show.
With supporting act the Detroit Party Marching Band besieging the Beer Garden en masse—literally bum-rushing the show at the outset—the night had a rousing opener. The 24-piece crew with columns of drums, woodwinds, horns and miscellaneous mayhem shell-shocked the pre-autumn night to life. My Brightest Diamond consists of Brian Wolfe on drums, Nathan Lithgow on bass and Ms. Worden doing triple-threat work on vocals, guitar and keyboards. With the poise of a band leader, Ms. Worden kept the vibe fun, allowing people to groove and dance despite some often somber subject material.
Things got moving quickly with MBD launching into “I Am Not The Bad Guy” from their 2014 album This Is My Hand—a somewhat melancholy tune with a driving rhythm section that seemed to prime the crowd for a night of frenzy. This is an up-tempo tale of the irresistible hooks of love and attraction: “Hey, I love you but you've hurt me so/I love you, won't you please let me go/I love you and I want you to know, oh oh oh/This is what love feels like, like, oh.” The splendid ambivalence of the human heart encapsulated in a five-minute song. This is what Shara and My Brightest Diamond bring to the table.
There’s a murder ballad strain running through MBD’s catalogue as evidenced by the night’s setlist. Calling her the female equivalent of Nick Cave is unfitting and derivative, but it gives you a frame of reference. Shara’s worked with the likes of militant underground Philly hip-hoppers, Jedi Mind Tricks and is just at ease on a hip-hop track as she is doing an impromptu Leonard Cohen cover (called for when Wolfe went hammerpants on his skins and had to repair his drumkit mid-set).
Among other spirited numbers, “Lover Killer” (from This Is My Hand) was memorable with Shara calling members of the DPMD to the stage to engage in a hand-clapping session. This seemed to ratchet up the audience participation even more. The lyrics once again speaking to the complicated shape of flaring emotions: “On the one side, I can dream my future/Dream my future/On the other, I can feel my nature/Feel my nature.”
Ms. Worden knows how to work a crowd, using innuendo that gently aims at sparking spontaneous romance (with all its inherent tensions) in her show’s attendants: “Why don’t you go over to that person you locked eyes with in the crowd and dance by them.” Or words to that effect. She is a dynamo without the ego; an anti-diva with all the trappings of a femme-fatale, but eminently approachable, sweet and funny.
A stirring rendition of “Pressure” (also from This Is My Hand) was followed by another interactive piece, “High Low Middle” (off her 2011 album All Things Will Unwind) in which Shara instructed the audience to bust a dance move—not exactly the Whip or the Nae Nae, but this was a mostly eclectic, adult crowd, for the record. Worden then broke it down all by herself for a song perhaps entitled “I Like To Watch,” wading into the crowd where a dirty dance party ensued.
Things got a bit sleepier at the tail of the set with Worden displaying her hauntingly evocative vocal range on quieter ballads and more tortured love sonnets. But the Detroit Party Marching Band closed the show in an upbeat manner returning for a second 30-minute set. Ann Arbor’s own Shigeto kept the party going in the Beer Garden with a DJ set that ran until midnight. The hipsters and the hippies intermingling and sweating it out to EDM and hip-hop favorites. It was a night of intimacy among strangers, all things considered.
The Current was able to reach Ms. Worden briefly after the show. Your gentle narrator asked her about her Michigan connections: “I graduated from Ypsi High and I’ve lived in Detroit for seven years now.” When asked about the next tour stop she delicately demurred: “Uh, Istanbul?” The logical destination after a rocking a show in a modified barn space in Southeastern Michigan.
One more European stop in County Cork, Ireland followed by a New York show and three Brooklyn gigs. Ann Arborites should consider themselves lucky that outside of New York, MBD chose Downtown Home & Garden as their domestic tour stop. We’ll look forward to more shows at the Beer Garden, this experiment worked rather well.