The foggy blue room of the Cobalt on East Hasting was a dim, cozy setting for a night of entrancing performance and powerful psych rock.
Eric Campbell and the Dirt served up a reckless set of music that sat on the rough side of psych. Campbell, in a black velour coat atop a polyester patterned shirt, hammered out some gritty guitar chords. The bass and drums in the back were booming and powerful, providing an ideal backdrop for the fluctuating guitar moods. The band was a loose mesh of energy and ability. The band also featured a violinist, who I found unmemorable. The violin was enjoyable when featured, but it felt too delicate of an instrument to join such an otherwise striking punk outfit. Campbell was an energetic presence on stage. At one point when his guitar accidentally got unplugged, he wrapped the cord around his neck like a noose as he replugged it. Their sound and lyrics (with songs like Kill Your Love and Who Stabbed Johnny) were certainly darker than the buoyant headliner, but they amped up the crowd, nonetheless.
After the interim, Diane Coffee’s band sauntered onto the stage single file – without their lead singer. The bassist, drummer, guitarist, and keyboardist all took their places. Once the band was all settled in, they played in Shaun Fleming, the face of Diane Coffee. Along with leading this soulful band, Fleming also gets his knocks as being the drummer for the psych-pop band Foxygen.
Fleming is known for being eccentrically theatrical in both his performance and appearance, so I was taken aback when he pranced onto the stage in a fitted grey suit. His sleeves and collar were undone, providing some personality to the look. Fleming also had on bright blue eyeshadow, which would hint at later surprises.
He meshed into the band seamlessly, providing strong vocals and expressive facial gestures. One minute his eyebrows were knit, the next, they were as high as they could go above his wide eyes. His voice was smooth and powerful, reminiscent of the 70’s singer Marc Bolan from the band T Rex.
After a few songs, he spoke hastily to the crowd, mimicking an auctioneer or a Southern preacher. He set the goal for the night to be embracing love, peace, and happiness. The crowd was incrementally settling in then, just as everyone seemed engaged, Diane Coffee pulled out a spirited rendition of their conflicted love song Green. Fleming embodied the sensitive optimism of re-entering a once successful relationship (“I was scared and I was cold/ But I won’t be that anymore/ Because your love/ It’s so beautiful”), and nailed the frustration at the end of the ballad, when history repeats itself (“Now that I can hardly stand anymore/ I want you thrown out that door”). That last line was met with Fleming dropping to his knees at the word “stand”.
After such a personal and captivating performance, the crowd seemed intrigued in a new way. It became very clear that this band was not the same as the rowdy, toughened opener. This band was very sensitive and heartfelt.
As the next song started up, Flemming dashed off stage. The band continued to riff as the crowd perplexedly looked all around. The period without Fleming accentuated the ability of the band. They were a solid ensemble, hitting all the notes and providing a funky rhythm for the audience to wait with baited breath for their spirited sermon leader to return.
Finally, Fleming strutted onto the stage once more, but this time in a sparkly, peach colored jumpsuit. On top it was silvery and flapper-esque, cinched at the waist with a broad black elastic band, and on the bottom half, pleated and flowy. He looked quite stunning.
It seemed the jumpsuit freed his body and further invigorated his fiery spirit. He gestured more with his arms, especially having ditched his guitar for a bit. He clapped above his head as he belted out to the single “6 As You”. His confidence, comfort, and glamour felt similar to a Ziggy Stardust era Bowie.
All the fervor continued for a few more songs, until it culminated at the passionate “Not That Easy”. Fleming stayed true to the softer moments of the song, which allowed him to belt the crescendos with gusto.
At one point, someone in the crowd shouted what we were all thinking:
“YOU’RE SO FUCKING COOL.”
Fleming softly chuckled and looked down. Not one to shy away from engaging with the crowd, he responded with a smile and a breathy “Thank you”.
Fleming so thoroughly personifies what it means to be a performer. When he puts on a show, the audience is entertained completely. The music, the theatrics, the pure energy are all there. What makes Fleming truly special is that he can be so extravagant, yet also feel so deeply authentic. He is being who he wants to be, doing what he wants to do. Moments that may have been over the top otherwise were perfectly outweighed by Fleming’s honest and direct lyrics. The spirit of Diane Coffee is almost palpable, and the trueness of their performance is simultaneously energizing and refreshing.