My Brightest Diamond has released five albums and played hundreds of shows, but each one is a novel experience. Two of their only constants: Shara Nova’s classically trained voice and her bent toward artsy surprise. In Nov. 2018, she released the My Brightest Diamond album A Million and One, a more electronic, dancey project than she’d ever put out before. Last night, the Detroit musician performed at the Cedar Cultural Center for a small but ardent crowd.
You may expect someone so singular to keep her distance from an audience, but Nova started the show amid the fray. As her drummer got settled behind the kit and cracked open the first song, her voice shone from the speakers, but she hadn’t yet taken the stage. Turns out it quite literally was her on the dance floor, bopping around with a rakish smile, as she sang the opening track from A Million and One.
My Brightest Diamond ended up on stage but stayed tethered to the audience, a veteran performer to her core. She folded music, dance, and monologues into a dramatic yet tasteful show. Before “A Million Pearls,” she slipped on a flowing white tunic and stepped onto a box; projections covered the screen and her outfit, giving the illusion of a floating face under ratted red hair.
A high point of Nova’s show was the Million and One song “Champagne,” which she says has an indelible Minneapolis tie. It opens, “Like bubbles in champagne/ No one can stop what’s coming up.” It’s a “can’t bring me down” kind of message – and the analogy came from none other than her friend Alexei Casselle, the Minneapolis rapper/guitarist whose band Roma di Luna has played the Cedar many times. “Has anything been getting you down lately?” Nova asked the crowd. “[Then] raise your glass.”
Now, about that dose of surprise: Nova delighted the crowd with a rock ‘n’ roll cover of Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy,” and she invited opener Tunde Olaniran onstage to duet on her song “Supernova.” She didn’t perform This Is My Hand’s “Lover Killer,” one of her most beloved songs. But she did dust off a few older cuts, including “Inside A Boy” from 2008’s A Thousand Shark’s Teeth.
Other than Olaniran, the only musician to perform with Nova last night was drummer Jharis Yokley, a Berklee College of Music grad on his second tour with My Brightest Diamond. Otherwise, Nova picked up every instrument herself, playing guitar and keys along with her backing tracks.
Earlier in the night, Tunde Olaniran took the stage, opening the show with energized music and an intangible softness. He connected with the crowd in no time. As far as genre, there’s no way to box him in. But he did invoke pop, rap, reggaetón (“Symbol”), gospel (“Miracle”), and the pitch-shifted, industrial electronic music associated with London label PC Music (whose affiliates include SOPHIE and Charli XCX). He performed with fantastic dancers Zariah Fowler and Yaya Coleman, who wore matching outfits and recalled Lizzo’s Big Grrrls in choreography and skill. That’s not all he shares with Lizzo; a representative “Namesake” lyric goes, “If I can be me, then you can be yourself.”
My Brightest Diamond set list
It’s Me On The Dance Floor
This Is My Hand
You Wanna See My Teeth
I Want Candy (Bow Wow Wow cover)
A Million Pearls
Supernova (feat. Tunde Olaniran)
Inside A Boy
I Have Never Loved Someone
More photos by Emmet Kowler for MPR:
My Brightest Diamond