Imagine if Sam Cooke and Kevin Barnes of Of Montreal got together, adopted a dusty blonde headed theater kid from California and fed him a steady diet of Bowie, Prince, Diana Ross, and Meatloaf (heh) before sending said theater kid out into the world. Did you follow my vague lede fueled by your assumed participation? If not, that’s fine – you can’t win them all – but if you did play along, chances are, that theater kid looks a hell of a lot like Shaun Fleming of Diane Coffee.
Think of Fleming as a psychedelic Brian Wilson (minus the psychological irregularity) with the stage panache of a more polished Foxy Shazam, but also happens to make some of – if not the best – psychedelic Motown moves and grooves that anyone can get down to.
While Fleming is the irrefutable front man of the group, he assures that the singular-associative nomenclature of Diane Coffee is not indicative of his own view of Diane Coffee, saying “Diane Coffee – the name is kind of a way to put a label on a feeling. Its that feeling that I get – and a lot of people get – when I’m performing. Its that performance element. Its that same kind of person and you’re at a show – maybe you’re quiet at home, but then you’re in that element where that sort of voodoo comes over you and you just start singing at the top of your lungs, moving and grooving.”
That voodoo Fleming references is an unequivocal cornerstone of Diane Coffee and their live sets – a mish-mash of emotional and physical intensity featuring “a lot of peace, a lot of love, a lot of happiness, and a lot of costume changes” – that are so pervasive the listener, concert-goer, gawker, simply cannot feel anything other than unbridled joy. So when Diane Coffee’s 2016 Summer Tour docked in Nashville for an evening this past Sunday at the Basement East, it was better than any must-see tv (looking at you, GoT fans) and well worth braving the supposed “storm” that never quite materialized.
Following a solid opening from local crew, Lasso Spells, Diane Coffee took the Basement East stage to put on one of the tightest and most magnificent live sets the Basement East and Nashville has seen all year. One of the first things anyone will notice with a Diane Coffee is the commitment to theatrical continuity – the stage was lined with beach balls and The Good Dogs donned all white everything, looking suave, chic, and airy in their linen get ups. Then, the music comes – The Good Dogs have got to be one of the most pocket live backing bands on the tour circuit today – The Good Dogs are a bunch of players; total pros (especially local dude, Caleb Hickman).
They hit their pocket almost instantly, and just as immediately, Fleming flies out onto the stage, the captain of a love-ship run ashore in the midst of the tour’s core theme – “exploring the ethos and we crash land on this crazy island, and we start to learn. Its about acceptance and being able to understand someone else’s culture or ideals and be able to really dive headfirst into that. Its basically like walking in someone else’s shoes” – and explore Diane Coffee did. They opened with one of my favorite tracks off their debut record, My Friend Fish, “Hymn.” The track is great because it opens with an airy vibe of commitment amongst the uncertainty of love, chugging along, chugging along – and much like Fleming’s firecracker entry to the stage – before hopping into a glorious call to arms of love affirmations and romantic desire, which led right into Fleming’s opening manifesto of love, asking the crowd “Whatever happened to love? Do you remember?” The set was high octane all the way through, bringing elements of Bowie to mind, all the while remaining wholly unique to Diane Coffee.
Touring in support of Everybody’s A Good Dog, their most recent full-length release, Fleming made sure to inform everyone it was “The white one in the back;” ever the consummate front man. As they played tracks off the record, Fleming disappeared from the stage only to return having shed his sailor’s regalia for a full-bodied romper in aquamarine, and jumped right back into the set as opener Lasso Spells came out wearing Egyptian outfits and began fanning the crown prince of the sea and stage, creating an ethereal scene of the sea and music. All in all, Diane Coffee’s Basement East set was one of the best of the year, and if you missed out, that’s a damn shame.
– Sean M.