The last time I saw Shara Worden (aka My Brightest Diamond) perform live was at the Green Man Festival in 2007, where she delivered a spine-tingling set that still ranks among my best ever gigs. Like most festival gigs though, it felt all-too short at only 40 minutes or so, and I have been desperate to catch a full-length set ever since. Last night Shara wowed a select but appreciative Brighton crowd at Komedia's intimate studio bar, filling the tiny space with her immense and captivating vocals. The backing band line-up has changed totally since Green Man, with the more proggy sounding two-guitar set-up being replaced with a string trio - making for a a more delicate and complex, deliciously melancholy sound. MBD's support act, Marla Hansen, was like a pared-down Laura Veirs (good) with occasional rambles into Joanna Newsom territory (not so good), but generally likeable. Marla also joined the headline act as violist in the band, alongside Maria Jeffers on cello and Olivier Manchon on violin.
Dressed in coordinating black and white theatrical outfits, which also matched the handmade stripy bunting decorating the stage, the band made an impact before they even began playing. The room fell silent in spangly anticipation as Shara prepared to sing, and from the opening 'Golden Star' to the very last note of her trademark cover of Piaf's 'Hymne a l'Amour', we were suspended in awe at the power and precision of her classically trained voice. Soaring string arrangements ranged from soothingly classical to challengingly avante-garde, and were always tight and heatfelt. Sometimes the string instruments were swapped for guitars, xylophones and a selection of percussive 'toys', and Shara's own guitar-playing proved as impressively versatile as her singing.
Every now and then, members of the band would put down their instruments to entertain us with some rather tongue-in-cheek magic tricks, and at one point I found myself being pulled up by the foxy French fiddler to 'pick a card'. This all added to the cabaret charm of the evening, and it felt as though we had been treated to something very special. On the one hand it was a shame there weren't more people to experience such an awesome show, but I was also secretly enjoying the smug satisfaction of being one of the lucky few.
Last night was the first ever Brighton gig from established London promoter The Local (check out the website for future shows at Komedia), and only the second night of My Brightest Diamond's mammoth European tour. MBD's latest LP, A Thousand Shark's Teeth, was released earlier this year on Asthmatic Kitty, and is likely to make it into my top ten albums of the year.
Photo of Shara Worden copyright © Rowan Stanfield 2008 - more images of My Brightest Diamond at: www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar