KRISTEEN YOUNG + THE PINK DIAMOND REVUE – THE HOPE & RUIN, BRIGHTON 18.9.23
American singer-songwriter Kristeen Young has released eleven albums on her own terms, sticking resolutely to a DIY approach whilst establishing a considerable reputation along the way. She has previously collaborated with David Bowie and Dave Grohl, no less, and opened for acts ranging from Morrissey to The Damned, as well as making an appearance on US television.
Her music is stubbornly resistant to categorisation, notable for striking vocals of impressively operatic range and a flamboyantly percussive keyboard style. Her most recent release is the 2022 album ‘The Beauty Shop’, a suite of musical depictions of the life of a serial killer, each song inspired by a different emotion. She’s in the UK for a string of dates, some as support to Miranda Sex Garden, and some headlining in her own right, such as tonight’s show at The Hope & Ruin. Monday is not necessarily the most popular night of the week for gig-going, but this is Brighton, where every evening has something interesting going on, and I suspect we’re in for something a bit special.
Support tonight comes from The Pink Diamond Revue, which I’m particularly pleased about. Like the headliner, they have a strong visual element, and are resolutely ploughing their own furrow, well outside of the mainstream. The music is a psychedelic sound collage of electronica and sampled vocals on a backing track, supplemented by live guitar and drums.
Front and centre is the band’s figurehead, Acid DoL, whose name is usually written with random capitalisation. Doubtless some sort of pan-dimensional entity, she manifests in this realm as the head and torso of a vintage showroom mannequin. I must admit I’ve been a bit wary of these plastic types since watching Dr Who battle the Autons on TV when I was a child, but Acid DoL is a benign and mesmerically impassive presence, spreading good vibes. Guitarist Tim Lane is clearly very much in love, spending every brief moment between riffs fussing over her, changing her hat and sunglasses, and spinning her with his headstock to face different sections of the crowd.
Tim himself cuts a dash, looking like a futuristic take on a snarling teddy boy. He is slinging a wonderfully retro 1960s guitar, a Watkins Circuit 4 with four pickups. Routed through an array of effects pedals, it delivers a range of cool tones from a cinematic surfy twang to all out gritty fuzz assault. He has no vocal mic, giving a brief un-amplified expression of thanks at the end of the number. By the second, the insistent electro throb of ‘Lux’, he’s out grooving on the bass bins at the front of the stage.
I personally have no objection whatsoever to backing tracks when they’re underpinned by a live drummer, and behind the kit is Rob Courtman-Stock, keeping it solid with a straight and powerful beat. He plays wearing a large pair of closed-back headphones, presumably relaying a click to keep in time with the recorded elements. Fills and embellishments seem to be deliberately minimal.
Enhancing the soundscape are trippy projections fired at a large white sheet covering the rear of the stage. These are constantly morphing and changing through the set. For ‘Nuclear’, they are a swirling op-art vortex that reminds me of the old TV show ‘Time Tunnel’. A disembodied voice on the backing track warns that “there’s no time to lose” and urges us to turn up the volume on our radios. The warm but hectoring tones of American broadcasters from the 1950s and 1960s seem to be a good source for vocal samples, and are prominent on ‘The Fuzz Guitar’ and ‘Milkshake’. During the latter, the visuals have become a freaky closeup of a face with wild eyes, staring over the shoulder of drummer Rob.
Acid DoL holds the Watkins as Tim switches to a red Strat for ‘Nothing Can Go Wrong’. There’s some sort of gizmo strapped to the guitar body. I can’t see what it is, bit it’s exuding a wonderfully oscillating sustained howl. A synthesised metallic voice accompanies ‘At The Discotheque’, with an appropriately scudding electronic dance backing, and I can’t resist having a bit of a bop myself. I really love the sound and concept of The Pink Diamond Revue. It’s like the past and the future all at once, and a cyborg-like combination of the human touch with mechanised efficiency. Acid DoL has donned a sailor’s cap for the wah-guitar groove named in her honour, and the set concludes with the magnificent ‘Blink’, a glam-racket thrash over an unrelenting beat. “The dirtier the better,” intones the vocal sample over the playout. Hell, yeah! I am so glad I came to see this on a Monday night.
The Pink Diamond Revue:
Tim Lane – guitar
Rob Courtman-Stock – drums
The Pink Diamond Revue setlist:
‘New Kind Of Life’
‘The Fuzz Guitar’
‘Nothing Can Go Wrong’
’At The Discotheque’
The stage is re-set for the headliner Kristeen Young, with just a solitary keyboard and mic stand. The instrument itself is completely encased in gaffer tape, other than the keys and the control buttons, and has a piano-type sustain pedal. The large white sheet on the back wall is now providing a base layer for big washes of colour from the house lights. The room has probably filled as much as it’s going to now, with enough people to provide a bit of atmosphere, though there’s plenty of room for last minute walk-ups should any materialise.
I feel slightly under-dressed as Kristeen Young takes the stage. She seems to have made an effort with a floaty white outfit contrasting with bright red shoes, and a silver Goddess-style halo. With closer scrutiny, the headdress looks like it might be made from hairdressing foils, and the outfit could be topped off with the sort of transparent capes you might wear at the hairdresser’s. The album is called ‘The Beauty Shop’, after all. There’s a nice trailing detail with circles of red material looking like drops of blood against the white.
The keyboard has an organ-like vibrato and swell for the opening number, and Kristeen’s voice swoops and soars impressively. It’s not easy to make out the lyrics, and it’s a loose interpretation of the tune, but it seems to be ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, the 1920s jazz standard. This segues into ‘The Monster In The Moon’, a haunting piece from the current album, as some heavy percussive sounds kick in. Whether sampled or programmed, the keyboard provides sufficient backing for the singer to leave the instrument to its own devices and dance expressively around the stage. It looks great.
Back at the keyboard, there’s heavy vamping on ‘Life Kills’, its eerie menace accentuated by washes of red light. ‘Cherry’, from the debut album back in 1997, alternates a jolting rhythm with flurries of delicate piano, the more percussive sections enhanced by flashes of strobe. A strident admonishment of “Shut your f*cking mouth”introduces ‘Sara Get The Baby’. The urgent backing takes care of itself, leaving the artist free to add some interpretive dance and banshee wails to its frenetic drama.
Kristeen pauses to tell us about ‘The Beauty Shop’, the title track of the current collection.
“The album is about a serial killer, but strangely I gave the song the back story of my adoptive mother. Maybe there’s a connection…maybe not.” The song is as enigmatic as its introduction, with a sinister chiming motif beneath its operatic vocal. The performance would stand up in a contemporary dance setting, with Kristeen swinging a silver pendant in the manner of a hypnotist, before dropping to a crouch and fluttering her fingers like a bird’s wings.
‘Anonymouse’ starts slowly, but soon careers into a rollercoaster ride of pitch and dynamics, a theme that continues with the percussive piano of ‘The Depression Contest’, bass chords crashing against a tinkling high motif. ‘St Even’ plays out with a relatively calm and accessible hook: “Steven, I’m getting even, as time moves on.” The accompanying dance features a niftily exaggerated cross-legged curtsey with outstretched arms. I would like ‘Sue Veneer’ purely for the word play of the title, but it’s a cracking song too, full of long sustained notes and some epic chord changes. The lighting joins in with a deep wash of red.
“Thank you for making my first Brighton show so wonderful,” acknowledges Kristeen. It’s not exactly a packed house, but those here have been enthusiastically vocal in their appreciation, and rightly so. We’ve witnessed an accomplished demonstration of music as performance art, to express a strikingly creative vision. The show concludes with the heavy beat and swooping electronics of ‘Pearl Of A Girl’. Kristeen is punching the air and the crowd are clapping along.
Not bad, for a Monday.
Kristeen Young setlist:
‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ (jazz standard cover) seque into
‘The Monster In The Moon’ (from ‘The Beauty Shop’ 2022)
‘Life Kills’ (from ‘The Beauty Shop’ 2022)
‘Cherry’ (from ‘Meet Miss Young And Her All Boy Band’ 1997)
‘Sara Get The Baby’ (from ‘The Beauty Shop’ 2022)
‘The Beauty Shop’ (from ‘The Beauty Shop’ 2022)
‘Anonymouse’ (from ‘The Beauty Shop’ 2022)
’The Depression Contest’ (from ‘Music For Strippers, Hookers, And The Odd On-Looker’ 2009)
‘St Even’ (from ‘The Subset’ 2019)
‘Sue Veneer’ (from ‘The Beauty Shop’ 2022)
‘Pearl Of A Girl’ (from ‘The Knife Shift’ 2014)