THE DILEMMA: Two major shows. One night. My Brightest Diamond (AKA singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Sharon Worden) at Memorial Chapel. Wes veterans Bear Hands at Eclectic. The former is ticketed, the latter’s free. You can go to both—Bear Hands openers Apache Kid won’t be taking the stage until 10:00 PM, around the same time Worden should be finishing her set across the street. But should you? Will you?
THE SOLUTION: Read on for a totally unscientific, heavily biased, hastily culled guide to tonight’s excellent music offerings.
—The Music: Instead of quoting flowery critical hyperbole, I’m listening to records by both bands. Currently blasting Burning Bush Supper Club (Bear Hand’s debut) for the second time as I write this. It’s pretty aight—big, blown-out new-wavey drums, fuzzy washes of reverb-drenched guitar, and anthemic if slightly overeager vocals (“I’M DREAMING OF YOUR GODDAMN LONG NAILS!”) combine into the sort of Oracular Spectacular-style psych-pop that hints at something more overtly psychedelic without ever really sacrificing its sugary accessibility. It’s all very Wesleyan (hi, Andrew, hi, Ben), and maybe too thuddingly obvious in parts, but still—this is catchy as fuck, and would work especially well in a cramped live setting, stripped of that studio sheen. Key tracks: “Crime Pays,” “High Society.”
I’ve moved on to My Brightest Diamond’s A Thousand Shark’s Teeth (2008). The Radical Performance Machine’s blurb describes MBD as sounding “like Led Zeppelin playing opera,” which sounds pretty nauseating to me. Thankfully it’s not true at all: this is fearlessly theatrical, wildly orchestrated pop, topped by Worden’s soaring falsetto. Imagine Homogenic-era Björk if she discovered show tunes, commissioned a twelve-piece orchestra, and then hired Rick Rubin to produce. It’s not really my thing—way too extravagant and lushly produced, and Worden’s vocals sorta remind me of Evanescence in an uncomfortable way—but it’s still pretty fantastic on its own terms. Most of all, it’s grand and epic and huge-sounding, and a perfect foil to anyone who bitches that all the indie bands playing here sound the same. This is worth seeing. I might even consider forgiving her this awful Radiohead cover. Edge: My Brightest Diamond.
—The Cost: MBD tickets cost about $4, or $2 if you bought it in the bundle with Dr. Dog tix. They may be selling a few at the door tonight, depending on if they were sold out at Usdan today. That’s pretty insanely cheap, considering this show is going for up to $75 at New York’s Lincoln Center. Still, Bear Hands is free. No brainer. Edge: Bear Hands
—The Venue: Wes students are frequently skeptical of the Chapel as a music venue. Remember when Music House played all of Funeral? Remember Už Jsme Doma? In both cases, audiences bypassed the pews entirely and formed a standing room crowd, for moshing or swaying or shrugging or whatever. I doubt that will happen tonight, but what if it does? Either way, the Chapel is the perfect echo chamber for My Brightest Diamond’s fittingly grandiose music. It’s an excellent call. Edge: My Brightest Diamond
—The Opener: Bear Hands is bringing Tony Castles and Apache Kid, who’s played here many times before. Brightest Diamond’s got multi-instrumentalist Emily Wells, who apparently fuses hip hop and classical (right on), and Wesleyan cellist Mel Hsu ’13. Edge: too different to compare, but big ups to RPM for giving an opportunity like this to a Wesleyan musician.
—The Band Name: “My Brightest Diamond”? Really? The “My [adjective] [noun]” band name format got tired the day Loveless came out, a decade before the emergence of My Morning Jacket or My Chemical Romance. Meanwhile, putting “Wolf” in your band name is so 2006 (exhibits A, B, C, D, E, F, G), and I’m getting sick of “Deer” bands too (you know who you are), but “Bear” is still kind of hip in band names, right? Panda Bear has a new album coming soon. Bear in Heaven played a fantastic show here earlier this year. Everyone and their mother still loves Grizzly Bear. So Bear Hands is only slightly late to the party. Edge: Bear Hands
—The Alumni Factor: Bear Hands formed at Wes. They’ve played here a few times since and will probably play here again, but the band has only recently been building hype in the non-Wes universe, prompting Pitchfork to wonder:
Does Wesleyan, the arty Connecticut liberal arts university, attract boys with raw, nasal voices and penchants for shimmering keyboards and huge waves of overdubbed psychedelic guitars to its halls, or does the school simply turn its students into those sorts of musicians?
The opportunity to support a Wes-based band is always appreciated. The opportunity to support a Wes-based band as it’s celebrating its first taste of real-world success (prompting Aural Wes to compare the show to MGMT’s April, 2008 homecoming at Beckham) is especially sweet. Edge: Bear Hands
—Google Fight: The only intelligent way to compare two items of interest. Check it out, guys. Edge: My Brightest Diamond:
—The Mash-Up: Has not, to my knowledge, been produced yet. But I’d really like to hear “My Brightest Bear Diamond Hands.” All you DJs out there: get on this.