OMD's Andy McCluskey dancing with his guitar to "History of Modern." Photo: Esther Meroño
After seeing Diamond Rings, aka John O'Regan play an acoustic set at SXSW, I anticipated a good show with all the bells and whistles at The Depot on April 10, where he was opening for Orchestral Manoeveures In The Dark (OMD). Slap me silly, but even though I've definitely heard OMD songs, especially during my stint as an 18-year-old '80s-night addict, I knew next to nothing about them. I arrived at The Depot after a great interview with O'Regan, having done hours worth of research on Diamond Rings, and felt a little foolish for not learning more about OMD, as it became obvious that's why there was a packed house. I became that 18-year-old again, mostly because my friend and I were at least 10 years younger (ugh, I'm nearing 30) than every other member of the audience. Diamond Rings played first, but I'm going to skip to OMD and go backwards.
For those of you who are idiots like me, OMD is a British new wave band formed in the late '70s, making it big with some hit singles that include "If You Leave," which you've definitely heard and was written for the movie Pretty In Pink. A lot of the bands us Millennials are listening to were influenced pretty majorly by OMD, including their baby-faced opener, Diamond Rings. OMD broke up and reformed in the mid-aughts with a slight line-up change, remastering some of their now-vintage albums, but also releasing some new music, which is what really made me respect this band. Walking into the venue and seeing a bunch of Ed Hardy–wearing, over-perfumed "old" people, I was a little wary of what I'd gotten myself into in terms of the headliner, but original vocalist Andy McCluskey assuaged my fears and raised my admiration immediately after the first song, saying, "We'll be playing some new ones, because we're not a nostalgia band, but we'll play some old ones, too." Christian Schultz can probably give you a more knowledgeable review of this band on the music end, as he's a true fan and caught a sample of the show before heading over to Purity Ring at Urban Lounge, but I was up close and personal in the photo pit when McCluskey broke out his dance moves, which were very much like watching someone struggle out of a straight jacket––in the most classy way possible. Musically, OMD was clean and flawless. Though I hadn't delved much into the 30-plus years of content on them, I did listen through their 2010 album, History of Modern, a few times and really enjoyed the "new" music they played, which included the title track to that album and an energetic McCluskey dancing with his guitar, and I do mean WITH. They have a brand new album released April 5, English Electric, and the fact they're pumping out quality music and are willing to play fests like Coachella this week really solidifies the importance and real talent and dedication of this band for me. I'm looking forward to seeking out more music from them and working my way backwards so I can join the Axe-doused, blouse-wearing masses next time they come through town!
Dniwer: Diamond Rings. Looking like a cross between James Dean and Devon Sawa (he laughed and said "thank you" when I said that to him after the show), Diamond Rings imbues in his style the same aesthetic as his music––genre-bending. With only a short acoustic set to compare his performance to, the show was much different than I initially expected. I had already been warned at the interview that there would be no lasers or colorful costumes as this tour is apparently "varying shades of gray," but I also expected a little more noise and excitement. The acoustic set was raw and simple, but honestly, even with a backing band, Diamond Rings' music IS simple, even for pop music. There's, of course, no reverb or droney guitar parts, which I'm partial to, but electronic pop music is usually exciting in other ways, especially when its mixed with other genres, i.e.: Purity Ring's underlying trip-hop beats. Diamond Rings is lacking a richness in his music that would really bring it to another level, and make for a more exciting live experience. Where he does shine, however, are his lyrics. They are also simple, but accessible. It's what you'd expect from a singer/songwriter, from an acoustic guitar player singing about love and life in the corner of a coffee shop, and it's endearing and catchy. My favorite song off his latest album, Free Dimensional, is perhaps the best example of this, and I almost melted in the photo pit when they played it as the second song of the night. "Runaway Love," which starts off with perky, '50s-pop drum beats is a perfect pop song that would've made it on a mixtape for my high school boyfriend: "When I'm with you all the skies have rainbows…You and I can make it super cool… I wanna burn my name in your heart, I wanna lose control."
O'Regan was a thrill to watch onstage, and also incredibly awkward. He's handsome and striking, in a 1990s cover-of-Teen-Beat kind of way, and he's also about 6'5" if not taller. It's clear that the dance moves were borrowed from a variety of '80s films and the headliners, and though it made me want to dance (good dance moves should be contagious), I felt a little uncomfortable watching his lanky, A-line body convulse––especially with the women next to me laughing hysterically. It became even more amusing to them when "Hand Over My Heart" played, in which O'Regan raps at the end. I skip that song on the album every time because it sounds like something The Lonely Island would pen, and was surprised that it made the setlist––it sounded like a joke.
Still, Diamond Rings made it up with "Put Me On," which is a catchy, Soft Cell-esque track that really highlights O'Regan's rich, Ian-Curtis-inspired vocals, and I was a fan again. "I'm Just Me" was another favorite I liked hearing, with some great, self-empowering lyrics and a house beat that would probably make the playlist at Metro Bar.
The crowd was stoic from beginning to end, but O'Regan told me later he likes playing to older crowds, and it didn't really dampen my spirits either, as I knew I was probably one of only a handful of people present who was familiar with the Canadian musician.
My Diamond Rings experience has been drastically different in all aspects: from an intimate acoustic performance, a smart and meaningful interview, to a somewhat disheartening electronic show. What it's made me realize is that, though I really respect Diamond Rings for doing what he wants to do artistically, he has musical strengths that I'd really like to hear explored more, and some weaknesses that should be left behind. At the end of the day, I had a good time at the show, John O'Regan is a generous performer, and I'm looking forward to seeing Diamond Rings keep growing (musically––otherwise O'Regan should consider wearing Lakers getup as one of their players).