SAN FRANCISCO — Marina and the Diamonds has always been a solo act. Vocalist and songwriter Marina Diamandis tacked on the bejeweled name for artistic effect and had said that the Diamonds weren’t her backing band, but her fans. So her new persona and direction leading to 2019 concept album Love + Fear—she dropped the Diamonds and became, simply, MARINA—was a bit perplexing, because her fans most definitely showed up in full force at The Masonic.
So if it wasn’t her fans, the conversation turns back to her band, which was in fact missing. MARINA was backed by four dancers, who sometimes sang backup (they held microphones, at least), and one musician who started out on the keyboard before transitioning to drums and playing on several of the songs. The majority of the music was piped in. Is it possible that the music industry held a meeting for pop artists and told them that bands are no longer popular? She joined label mates Charli XCX and Christine and the Queens (and a handful others) to have come through the Bay Area without a band.
Quite frankly, she could have benefited from having musicians on stage, as the dancing element of the performance was a mixed bag. And when it was really good, it outshined the headliner.
MARINA began with “Handmade Heaven,” the new album’s opening track, on a platform in the middle of the stage as the dancers appeared at her wings and performed a sort of gymnastics floor routine to the ballad. Like the album, the show was split into two parts, a “Love” set followed by a “Fear” set. It was interesting to see how she separated the two when older material was figured in. For example, “Hollywood,” from 2010 debut The Family Jewels, and “Primadonna,” from 2012’s Electra Heart, came next. Fans joined in unison on both better-known songs. On the latter, MARINA was handed silver pompoms and performed a cheer, and the room figuratively exploded.
With the quick “give me more” motion of her hands, she commanded fans to sing a verse for her. There were four Electra Heart songs performed, and those four received the loudest applause.
It was not until another cut from her debut album, “I Am Not a Robot,” that a keyboard was slid onto the stage
“It’s very old,” MARINA said of the song. Well, it’s 10 years old.”
Over the musician’s keyboard playing, which was soon swallowed up by the canned sound, she flittered about the stage, striking poses from classical-style sculpture-making.
For the next new song, “To Be Human,” the musician moved to the drum kit, which until that point was also hiding in the back corner of the stage. This allowed MARINA to play the first verse of the human rights and equality tune. She introduced the bassy “Superstar” as a “true love song,” though that one didn’t really stand out that much from the rest of the set.
The low point in the performance came on “Froot,” the title track to 2015’s album of the same name (and the only song from that album to make an appearance). There was nothing wrong with the song itself, nor her voice, but by this point the four other people on stage—the dancers—were basically just marching in place while maneuvering some lit-up rods around her. It came off as what you might find at a middle school talent show.
From that point on, the show improved by leaps and bounds both in terms of musicality and the action happening on stage.
Love + Fear cut “Orange Trees” was a highlight, with MARINA bending the tone of her voice to a near vibrato (which she used so much of on earlier albums). Then on the following “Teen Idle,” a fan favorite, she sat at her keyboard and performed alone on stage. It was authentic, rich-sounding and live.
At this point the room went dark, and swirling synth sounds transitioned the show to the “Fear” segment. This set actually began with a new song called “Believe in Love,” which had the chief lyric: “You shouldn’t take fear so seriously.” Two of the dancers, a man and a woman, performed a dramatic dance in which they simulated a fight. One of those dancers, Molly Horne, became the secondary star of the show. During “Emotional Machine” her solo dance featured some ballet-caliber moves, while the passion she exuded with her body language showed she should look into acting. MARINA let her have the spotlight, remaining pretty stationary for the duration.
The “Fear” set continued to pick up steam with fun new cut, “No More Suckers,” and an unreleased song called “I’m Not Hungry Anymore,” on which Marina again performed alone. She concluded with banger “Baby,” which she wrote with Clean Bandit last year. A short encore included the hypnotic “End of the Earth” and Electra Heart cut, “How to Be a Heartbreaker.”
Alt-pop singer-songwriter Allie X opened the concert with a tight nine-song set of groove-heavy songs, starting with “Bitch.” Backed by a three-member band, she switched up sounds from song to song. “Paper Love,” for example was a synth-pop track that was the first of several that let her test out the strength of her pipes. And boy did she have strong pipes. On “Fresh Laundry,” she harmonized with her bassist alongside a descending keyboard scale to create a haunting texture.
On one newer song, Allie X sounded like Annie Lennox. On another, which had some lyrics about vomiting in a bathroom, she recalled early Madonna at times and a playground taunt at others. She concluded with “Casanova,” a sugary pop song with some biting kiss-off lyrics.