Vivid presents My Brightest Diamond @ The Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House (27/05/2012)

Caitlan Welsh

One of the best things about having Vivid at the Opera House is how theatrical the whole experience is. Not necessarily the performances themselves – although being in that building seems to make every act think they have to bring an orchestra (or at least a horn section) – but the atmospheric difference between standing around with a beer through an OK local band at the Metro, and filing into your assigned seat to watch a single, self-contained performance, is a significant one. It gives a certain atmosphere to certain shows – instead of just “seeing a band” you are in a tiny theatre, or a coffeehouse, or Vegas. It puts up a fourth wall that the performer can choose to break or not. It also enhances the effect of “extras” like costumes and props, of which my entertainments for the evening are both particularly fond.

Shara Worden, who performs and records as My Brightest Diamond, tip-toes onstage after her band with a Pixar-esque mass of orange helium balloons in her hand – delightful! – and a decidedly unnerving, moon-faced mask on – creepy! Her feet and her band are black-clad – everything else is pink, yellow, blue or orange. Her dress is a mass of various bobbles and felt, her cheeks pink, her amp orange, her hair done up in neat asymmetrical rolls and neon pompoms.

She has the kind of face you only see in old photos of young people: the twinkling eyes and high cheekbones and rosebud mouth of a wry Polish grandmother and the smooth pink skin of a teenager. Watching her dance to a gentle overture, the rosy-cheeked moonface gleaming blankly between her felt hand-pads with applique’d plus and minus symbols on them, I will admit to having misgivings.

But for all the art-school weirdness (the mask returns, there’s some business with black sheets I don’t grasp the point of), Worden is so funny and charming that the show’s performance-art weirdness can be glossed over, and even takes on a different resonance. Her songs are raw little stories of family, pain and faith, ranging in sound from the cartoonish and jazzy to sparse, experimental arrangements and simple lullabies; but even when she sings wrenching lines like “Shara, this is going to hurt/Be brave, dear one”, she does it with joy.

She’s also incredibly funny – using odd voices as she tells stories about Laurie Anderson giving her song ideas, or gleefully kicking balloons into the audience (where we are entertained by batting them around for far too long), or making up a tiny, slinky funk ditty about tuning her guitar. And as always, her voice is stunning – a full-bodied instrument capable of careful melisma, sultry whispers, operatic flights. Exiting on a reverbed, surprisingly garagey Tainted Love (forgoing her signature cover, Feeling Good ), she performs just one song for the encore – a devastating, hopeful lullaby addressing her child and her own mortality. The overwhelming feeling is of a sweet, sad clown, using bright colours to illustrate and cushion hard truths.