Oh my goodness, go see a Diamond Rings show. Whether or not 80s-influenced dance pop is “your thing,” his stage presence is undeniably entertaining and the live performance was just plain fun. His show at the Triple Rock on Sunday night was one of the best I’ve seen this year and has set the bar remarkably high for anyone to eclipse the experience. Though this may be more appropriate concluding paragraph material, on the chance you don’t read this entire thing I want to make sure you get the message. Seriously, if you get a chance, go see Diamond Rings.
Diamond Rings is 25-year-old Canadian native John O’Regan. Twin Cities europop fans may remember him as the silver pleather leggings-clad second opener for Robyn’s February stop at First Ave earlier this year. He certainly didn’t tone it down this time around, as he took the stage in a hot pink low-cut tank top (exposing his well-defined alt sternum; is there a more hipster body part?), matching nail polish, a neon jacket imprinted with lips covering both sleeves, and more makeup than I wear in an entire weekend.
The assembled crowd lurked towards the back of the dance floor as we watched O’Regan silently place and soundcheck his instruments (including a keyboard, electric guitar, standard electro-band MacBook, and some kind of strange box on a stand that looked like the apparatus for a music-themed video game). Though he played each instrument at various times throughout his set, the real highlight was when he stepped away from the music station and treated us to his unbridled, zany, and quite simply amazing dance moves. I have gone on record as saying that Robyn is the best dancer ever, and I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I think Diamond Rings might be better. (After the show he gave my friend and me a lesson in how to dance like Robyn, which may be the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.)
What’s really great about Diamond Rings, though, is not the hipness or the flamboyance—it’s legitimate artistry. There is an air of authenticity to his work that is missing in most silly, throwaway pop music. O’Regan wrote much of his debut album Special Affections during an extended hospital stay while being treated for a chronic illness, and there is an air of seriousness and somberness in the resulting songs. So when he sings about love and heartbreak and sacrifice and compromise, unlike with most superficial pop acts, you actually believe him. Even though he’s decked out in neon and prancing around like a raver on amphetamines, O’Regan rarely cracks a smile. Add the fact that his voice is deep and masculine and controlled—a noticeable foil to his over-the-top, flashy persona—and you’ve got one unique and engaging live act.
O’Regan started his set and then begged us to come forward. And forward we came (so far forward that I can say with authority that he smells really good, in case you were wondering). The crowd went crazy and we all jammed out hard to songs like the sexy, fun “Play By Heart” and “You Oughta Know,” which he introduced by requesting, “Will you turn this up? I think people want to get down.” (We did.) Later in the set he stripped to just the tank top and did what can only be described as conceptual Richard-Simmons-inspired dance moves. The crowd ate it up. O’Regan closed with “Show Me Your Stuff,” a keyboard-driven synth jam that sounded like an especially space-age version of Culture Club.
As the show wound to a close, I actually found myself feeling a bit depressed, for two reasons. One, because the show was so damn fun I didn’t want it to end. But more than that, I got the feeling that the experience I was having was one I’d never have again. Diamond Rings will be back, I’m sure of it. But the last time I felt that kind of energy at the Triple Rock was when Sleigh Bells tore up the stage in October; they’ll return in May, but this time headlining First Ave. There’s something about experiencing such an exciting artist in such an intimate setting; I felt sort of like I was in on a really amazing secret and it was about to be broadcast on the national news. So let me be the one to spill it: Diamond Rings is going places, and when he announces his headlining date at our famous downtown danceteria, well, you heard it here first.