Published Jun 09, 2019An unlikely mix of patrons turned up for ex-Foxygen drummer Shaun Fleming, aka Diane Coffee, at the Fox Cabaret last night: bros in khaki shorts danced ironically; dads in polo shirts sat at tables near the back of the room; psych rock scenesters stood still with their arms crossed.
At first, it was difficult to tell if anyone was there to see Coffee; in fact, most of the audience seemed like friends and family of hometown openers Tanglers. The local sextet was a more lighthearted complement to Coffee's operatic display. They debuted a new song that was in keeping with their sun-kissed surf-and-turf indie rock. Although Tanglers were mostly laidback, they also rollicked with songs that sounded like Help-era Beatles. None of those tunes impressed as much as one particular song, though, a searing, triple-guitar psych rock jam with wormholing keys.
If Tanglers complemented Coffee's rock side, second opener Claire George engaged his newfound electronic pop one. With an angelic voice, she gracefully moved from sentimental mid-tempos to hip-shaking low-end beats. She describes herself as an extrovert, and it showed in the way she flipped her hair and played with the floor-length wings attached to the arms of her top. With musical talent and confident stage presence, it was easy to imagine her commanding a larger audience.
Finally, Diane Coffee hit the stage like a rock star. Actually, he looked and acted more like a superhero, dressed from head-to-toe in lime green mesh, save for his reflective platform shoes and a reflective sticker beneath his right eye. His band also wore reflective attire: sleeveless hooded ponchos that clashed with their uncoordinated, casual sneakers.
Coffee appeared to explode with feeling. He grabbed at the air, punched it with wild haymakers, and air-drummed. All the while, he growled in pained gestures and facial expressions. His songs were nothing short of mini rock operas. They made sense, though, when one remembered that he is a theatre actor.
All that said, he was most tolerable when his hands were occupied by a guitar for less histrionic numbers. Coffee's best quality was not his charisma, enthusiasm, or (over-)theatricality. Rather, it was his voice. It reached soaring heights. It strained at snarling depths. He manipulated it to cartoonist effect. Although, that was often when he went overboard. He frequently spoke like a prerecorded announcement on a flight or public transit, but he did so at the speed of an auctioneer or carnival barker. At other times, he spoke like a kids show host or made sound effects that translated directly to complete gibberish.
Diane Coffee casts a wide net, as reflected in his music, appearance and audience. But despite his ambition, his live performance proved he can benefit from greater focus.