All words by Molly Beauchemin.
At some point around 6pm last Wednesday, a cow decided to take a nap between two pieces of bread, and Katz’s Deli decided to serve it to me while I waited for the doors of the nearby Mercury Lounge to open. After the animal instincts subsided, I came up for air, grease-covered but content and gleefully shooting a big ole’ “up yours” glance to the objurgating table neighbors who eyed me as if to say, “I can’t believe you just ate that whole sandwich…..by yourself….and so quickly.”
It was then that I started to think about the poetic incongruity of my evening’s itinerary. I had just devoured a pastrami sandwich with the kind of unapologetic glut and visceral aplomb that suggests King Henry VII tearing at a Turkey leg, and yet, I was about to go review the Lavender Diamond show at the contiguous Mercury Lounge – perhaps the most dainty and deliciously precious combination of circumstances that I could possibly imagine.
The Mercury Lounge is so small and quaint that even the back of the room is only 20 feet from the stage; and Lavender Diamond’s music is so saccharinely adorable and sonically delicate that you almost feel like you need to re-familiarize yourself with the Eensy-Weensy Spider song just to attend one of their tea parti—I mean, concerts. On a sliding scale from Katy Perry to Kate Bush, Lavender Diamond vocalist Becky Stark sits somewhere next to Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast and Zooey Deschanel in her She & Him incarnation, though her lovelorn cuteness is less vintage Ray Bands and more Care Bear Band Aids, if you know what I mean.
I realized how epically interesting this “dinner and a show” combination was going to be because I couldn’t possible imagine Lavender Diamond tearing through a Pastrami Sandwich like I just had: in my mind, its members eat nothing but vegan sugar plums that fairies gather as they ride teddy bears through fields of cotton candy.
Becky Stark founded Lavender Diamond in 2004 after moving from Providence, R.I. to LA. Assisted by pianist Steve Gregoropoulos, guitarist Jeff Rosenberg, drummer Ron Rege Jr. and Devon Williams (also on guitar), she’s a choir girl who belts out winsome daydream pop full of ascending vocal arpeggios and romantic choruses. (Feminists please note: having founded the LA Ladies’ Choir in 2005, Becky Stark is literally a choir girl.) At the Mercury Lounge, she wears a beaded black shift with purple and turquoise decals on its capped sleeves, dedicates her first song “to the Earth”, and precedes to dance a modified hula before telling us that doing this show has made her “happier than I’ve ever been in my whole, entire life.”
Then, she promised us (her speaking voice sounding like Marcel the Shell,) that it was “time to get weird”.
The band moved through the country-folk single, “Everybody’s Song”, before settling into the doo-woppy and appropriately lovely “Perfect Love”, off Lavender Diamond’s second full length LP, the newly released Incorruptible Heart. Though Stark promised us that the new album spells “lots of sad songs from now on,” “Perfect Love” feels like a stroll by a duck pond on a sunny afternoon; sing-songy and ebullient, it details Stark’s romantic conviction – that “there’s a perfect love for me” – while setting up some sparkly riffs and a trellising “hear me, hear me” that sends me into an implicit guessing game of “which Disney Princess would Becky Stark be?” It’s so expressive of her orchestral range that one can’t help but imagine her singing it in her bedroom, as mice sew the hem of the ball gown (the one she will use to win over Prince Charming!) and bluebirds tie ribbons in her hair.
Like most songs in the set, “Perfect Love” feels like a rendezvous through a Linda Ronstadt Beach Boys cover: the songs are short — most barely surpassing the two minute mark — and they delight in bouncy, perfunctory storytelling and infectious pop melodies. Becky Stark stands in front of the small, 40ish-person audience, delivering them cherubically as she stares doe-eyed into the bright lights.
“Oh no, I don’t recall/ I can’t remember anything at all/ The life we knew is lost and gone/ And it’s hard without you,” Stark later sings, whimsically fighting despair on “I Don’t Recall.” Upon its conclusion she offers the audience the opportunity to go to Lavender Diamond’s website, “sing-ecstatic-praises-to-the-glory-of-the-universe….dot COM,” which precedent attested was an incredibly believable joke. On their actual website, though, she said that one might find album art resembling “five-way kaleidoscope visions” and ambiguously dangerous “pyramids of light,” which, coming from someone who moments earlier claimed “the mood is so delicate in here, it’s like my fantasy,” is an entirely obvious choice for their album cover art.
Through the entire set, Stark stood and faced the audience head on, like an audacious six year old finally given the opportunity to perform for an audience of accommodating adults; there was such joy and authentic merriment in her willingness to put those choir girl hand gestures to work. She would throw her palms out to the side, framing her hips in a low “v” while belting her voice to the ceiling; or she would cup her hands at her navel, her posture immaculate, tall and lifted, not trying to be cute and proper, but achieving the effect.
Towards the end of the set, a band member brings out a chair and a guitar for her to use for the next song. Cautioning, “this is going to be a very said one,” she Laura Marling’s her way into the next, recent single, “Come Home”:
“If I were made of lace, would you come home?” she coo-yawns in a breaking falsetto, getting a Bon Iver-like voicebox-quiver going. “I gave away everything that I own/ Would you come home?” she continues, the repetition making her sound like Kate Bush on a rainy day. She then moves on to understated and slow, “Dragonfly,” and the audience is quiet until the synth simmers out, when they erupt into uplifting applause.
The last song is the pensive ballad, “Everybody’s Heart’s Breaking Now,” the much doted over feature-single from Incorruptible Heart. We barely have time to sigh before the deep, sloth like background percussion barrels and reverberates across the tiny stage, Stark’s voice floating like air above it. Powerfully, the song seems to overshadow the previous numbers in the set, and suddenly it’s like we’re viewing our own lives from some distant future, in slow motion, long after the band finishes the song and leaves the stage.
The ballad, bursting of lyrics like “Oh, everybody’s heart’s breaking now/ And you feel the world is ending somehow,” seems appropriate for a nostalgic sitcom montage or a season-ending cliff hanger, where some crazy relationship-ending twist unveils itself explosively in the last few minutes of the show’s air time, and the producers need an epic song by which to zoom out on the victims face, as she reluctantly gets on the train; and then the train grows smaller as it barrels through the countryside; then suddenly its an aerial view of this train, caterpillaring through the changing foliage; then suddenly the city of New York is just a crooked fence on the horizon; and then you realize you’ll have to wait until the next season to find out if that person really took the job in L.A. Though it sounds like Becky Stark did.
Even though I’m convinced she’s not entirely heartbroken –- she’ll come out again shortly, for a bouncy encore of “Here Comes One” –- I still think that for a Lavender Diamond track, the song is miraculously spacious and seems to indicate the progression of not just their sound (the new album was produced by OK Go’s Damian Kulash Jr.) but of Becky Stark, lyrically. But just when I think this is the maturation of Lavender Diamond, Stark manages to out-sunshine herself with one final, innocent gesture of enduring charm: ending the concert, appropriately, with a curtsy.