When considering a concert experience, a few factors, including the venue, set list, audience and the artist’s actual live performance, come into play. Welsh singer-songwriter Marina Diamandis — formerly known as Marina and the Diamonds, now mononymously and stylistically known as MARINA — hit all the right notes to produce a gem of a concert for her Feb. 21 show at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston. As part of the indie-electro pop artist’s titular tour for her fifth studio album, “Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land,” the Boston show featured mostly upbeat hits from the latest release, but also a few songs from each of her previous albums and some ballads to craft a well-rounded concert.
The leading and titular track of “Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land” sets a strong tone and impression for the rest of the album, which Marina took advantage of by similarly performing it for her first song of the night. “Ancient Dreams” not only features the dramatic theatricality of many of Marina’s other songs — which she pulls off with the practiced prowess — but espouses the empowering, bold meaning behind the album.
“Our ancestors had to fight to survive, just so we could have a chance of a life,” Marina crooned, clad in a shiny bright blue fringe set with her name emblazoned in bling across her chest. Her outfit reminded me of the flashy and fun fashion of Kacey Musgraves for her 2019 Governors Ball performance (although slightly different, their music that similarly empowers women and doesn’t strictly adhere to their respective genres leads me to believe they would be powerful friends). “You don’t have to be like everybody else, you don’t have to fit into the norm — you are not here to conform.”
The electric energy of the audience reminded me of how inimitable live music and performances are, and I truly believe it elevated my experience. I thought the loud cheers and surprisingly good memory of the audience — exhibited through their word-for-word singing along — for “Ancient Dreams” was because it was her first song of the night and it’s a bop. However, I will say, the crowd at Marina’s Boston show was one of the best I’ve had the luck of being a part of. Decked in some of the most colorful and stylish outfits I’ve seen at a concert, Marina’s fans truly know how to have fun. They truly knew the words to all 18 songs, and Marina’s performance thrived off that manic energy.
Following suit as the album’s track listing, Marina launched into one of the other album’s singles as the backdrop turned green hues for the sharp “Venus Flytrap.”
“Why be a wallflower when you can be a Venus flytrap?” Marina sang as the crowd chanted along. As Marina performed more of her songs that bitingly rage about men, society and the state of the world, the more energetic the crowd got, and I was here for it. See: other songs in the set list, including “Man’s World,” “Can’t Pin Me Down,” “Purge the Poison” and “I Love You but I Love Me More.” Marina exhibited her satirical and dark humor side with songs like “Oh No!,” “Hollywood” and “Are You Satisfied?” and her softer side with “Handmade Heaven,” “Happy” and “Highly Emotional People.”
The stage set-up was fairly simple, with Marina sometimes playing at the grand piano, but she mostly sang center-stage and worked the crowd with a complementary back-up singer, guitarist, drummer and keyboardist. She remarked at enjoying returning to Boston, as she had played in the city for multiple tours.
The singer has such a commanding stage presence that she didn’t need much theatrics with dancing and outfit changes; her songs and vocals have enough of that, with flawless whistles and riffing and her voice switching from low and seductive to high and haunting. Although 18 songs sounds like a lot, they truly sped by in a blink of an eye — that’s how captivating Marina is.
She ended the show with the poppy “Bubblegum Bitch,” but returned to loud cries and chanting of “encore” with the fitting “Goodbye” from “Ancient Dreams.” I’m disappointed she didn’t sing my favorites “Blue,” “Primadonna” and “Hermit the Frog,” but I’m happy enough with my favorites from her debut, “The Family Jewels” and “Electra Heart” especially. In between a casual listener and devoted fan, I didn’t realize how many songs from her discography I knew and enjoyed until she performed song after song that I could at least recall. I enjoyed her latest album, and it received positive reviews, but I truly was able to appreciate it after watching Marina’s concert.
“OUR ANCESTORS HAD TO FIGHT TO SURVIVE, JUST SO WE COULD HAVE A CHANCE AT LIFE. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, YOU DON’T HAVE TO FIT INTO THE NORM — YOU DON’T HAVE TO CONFORM.”Marina Diamandis
Interestingly enough, Marina performed in another Orpheum Theatre for this tour — in Minneapolis on Valentine’s Day. Both are constructed in the classic grand performing and concert hall style, although Boston’s Orpheum boasts a history of one of the oldest theaters in the country, built in 1852. The Boston venue charmingly displays the show information on a classic billboard on the front of the theater, perfect for a photo op or to longingly stare while you walk by on your way to a less exciting activity. Entering the venue is a bit chaotic, with low ceilings, merchandise and drinks for sale and multiple directions to upper, lower, balcony and side seating. Fortunately, the venue managed it as organized chaos, with staff at reasonable points throughout your journey to your seat. The stage is surprisingly low — for such a large venue, I would expect it to be elevated. The seat is graduated in height from the front to back. I’m grateful my seat was only one section back, but I still wonder if the people in the way back could see. The low stage made for a more intimate and dramatic atmosphere, with tall ceilings featuring the strange graphics chosen for each song and a signature color.
With tongue-in-cheek hits like “Primadonna,” “How to Be a Heartbreaker” and “Bubblegum Bitch” and clever wordplay abound in her discography, I would say I certainly was a fan of Marina’s before watching her live. However, live music has that alluring appeal that puts me on the path of obsession, playing the artist’s music 24/7 and closely following their social media days after — the concert high, if you will. I’m always prone to falling victim to that high, but I’m more than willing to bear it for Queen Marina.