MARINA and Allie X at the Orpheum, 10/9/19
Welsh pop princess MARINA (formerly Marina & the Diamonds) seemingly saved the last remnants of her energy to close her North American tour on a high note. To top it all off, as many overzealous fans in the audience reminded her; it was the eve of her birthday.
MARINA chose her opener well in Canadian alt-pop artist Allie X, who at one point called MARINA her “idol.” She slowly won people over throughout her set of quirky, guitar-driven melodies and eerie lyrics. The set was a perfect fit to kick off Spooktober.
A tilted video wall opened on the scene of a starry sky, and two dancers slowly walked out one by one. The star of the night then finally appeared in a cheerleader’s outfit (complete with an emblazoned blue “M” on her chest and pom-poms that she brought out during “Hollywood”) and dropped into “Handmade Heaven,” the opening track of her latest album LOVE + FEAR.
MARINA’s entire set was divided into the thematic halves “Love” and “Fear,” just like the album, and it was interesting to see where she placed her older material.
It became clear early on just how much her critically-acclaimed breakout project, 2012’s Electra Heart, meant to people. Containing some poignantly written tracks from an intentionally melodramatic character navigating early adulthood, they were the kind of songs that shaped anyone in their late teens when the project was released.
The crowd didn’t reach a concert-worthy fever pitch until she hinted that she was about to play the album’s lead single, “Primadonna,” which she performed in front of a rainbow-coloured light show to a deafening singalong.
The love for MARINA’s older material continued throughout the night, especially when she sat down at her piano to deliver stripped-back versions of tracks like “I Am Not A Robot” and “Teen Idle,” which was easily the highlight of the night, closing the “Love” set.
MARINA slowed the song down and wrenched every bit of drama out of the lyrics delivered from the perspective of a suicidal teen, wishing she was among the popular crowd and putting up a front of happiness.
Her cheerleader outfit wasn’t just for show – she doubled down with the dance moves as well. MARINA barely moved from the top of her tiered platform, but putting herself on a pedestal really worked for the themes of power dynamics in most of her songs.
The typical high-school pump-up moves work for conveying everything from legitimate joy to biting sarcasm and masked sadness.
MARINA also took a deeply moving foray into social commentary with the more recent track “To Be Human,” a track about finding love in the decaying world around us. Her video wall displayed striking images of Black Lives Matter protests, Mexican children at the border, and melting glaciers before the chorus exploded into images of rebellion and brotherhood.
For most of the set, however, MARINA delivered a solid hour and a half of brightly-coloured poptimism. Accompanied mostly by water and beach imagery, her jubilant and upbeat synths invited the crowd to dance as she brought back summer in October.
Her dancers were certainly more classically trained than the average pop show, adding in some breathtaking throws and catches.
After closing the show with her biggest hit, “How To Be A Heartbreaker,” the dancers barred her from leaving the stage, to her surprise. As they brought out a cake – “You’re so naughty,” MARINA commented in her adorable accent – the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to her, which MARINA said was a first.
It was the perfect moment to close a show that was a rollercoaster of emotions.