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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Diamond Rings Gets Gloriously Androgynous at Rickshaw Stop

Posted By on Tue, Mar 8, 2011 at 8:46 AM

Diamond Rings at Rickshaw Stop last night.
  • Diamond Rings at Rickshaw Stop last night.
Diamond Rings

P.S. I Love You

March 7, 2011

@ Rickshaw Stop

Better than: Relying on the ballet or pastoral art scenes to get your fix of pretty.

There's an argument floating around amongst a certain segment of indie rock fans that the genre has become too pretty. That the angsty noise of bands like Sonic Youth and Pavement has been traded in for the nostalgic pop stylings of the '80s, when form followed function and feedback was considered a sin.

Diamond Rings' John O'Regan could be a posterboy for the Pretty movement in indie rock, and not just because he wears eye shadow, boasts a boyish figure, and wears a sassy mop of blonde hair. It's also because of the music: the gaudy voice, the clean production, and the synthetic aesthetic that once made bands like Talking Heads seem both poppy and bizarre.

A solo performer -- and by performer we mean a Princeian diva -- John O'Regan is the wide-eyed freshman on the scene, vaguely innocent but assured and mature. The Toronto-based musician's background is a study in contradictions. He grew up reconciling athletic instincts with his artistic passions, so when he flung his body like a modern dancer onstage at Rickshaw Stop last night while wearing spandex and singing an octave or three lower than his actual range, the mental disconnect between his androgynous appearance and testosterone-y voice was reconciled.

A full band could easily perform the instrumental tracks he sings over, but that also might distract from the spectacle that is O'Regan. On his set opener, "Play by Heart," he stuck to just the mic and some aggressive shimmying. He made his way to the keys for a quick clean riff toward the end, a jangly version with a more traditional piano sound than what we find on his resonating debut album, Special Affections. The swirling dance beat of "On Our Own" and the boner groove "It's Not My Party" also benefitted from a more organic approach on the keyboard.

When he picked up the guitar, problems started happening, though to no fault of his own. On "Wait and See," he broke a string -- this after complaints of getting some electrical shocks from the instrument. He seemingly relished the adversity. "I just don't wanna die, because then the show would be over. I'm sure you'd get refunds ... This is life or death, San Francisco." And before he went to grab another guitar during "Wait and See," he told us, "the thing about being a solo performer is that when you break a guitar string you can't pretend it was supposed to happen ... It's as though the West Coast is conspiring to not let me play guitar." We'd get used to the charm and charisma, but it never gets old.


When everything returned to its proper order, he wielded a fine axe, masking simple chord progressions with swinging showmanship. Later in the set, he stripped down the components of "Give it Up," which, probably because of the rain outside, reminded us of this video of Gavin Rossdale performing "Glycerine" all by his lonesome.

But late-night dance anthems are what gives Diamond Rings his shimmer. At times we were reminded of the moody countenance of Junior Boys and Hot Chip, with fist-pumping seemingly as important as looking good while doing it.

If Diamond Rings is the pretty side of indie rock, opener P.S. I Love You proudly exists on the other end of the spectrum. This duo shrieks Tourette's-like with Paul Saulnier's guitar and vocals and drummer Benjamin Nelson's reliable stick work. Saulnier sounds a bit like Spencer Krug of fellow Canadian band Wolf Parade, his voice similarly haunted and possessed and shrill. Seemingly a cross between Kevin Smith and Hurley from Lost, Saulnier clearly has a rare connection with his guitar. He comprehensively works the fret board, searching out riffs in counterintuitive ways and finger-tapping at times as a paean to Iron Maiden, we guess.

PS I Love You with Diamond Rings
  • PS I Love You with Diamond Rings
One criticism: Feedback is clearly part of their musical DNA, but their amps were set at 11, and they needed to be at maybe an 8 in a half-full Rickshaw.

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