On a drab and cold Calgary night, nothing could have illuminated the darkness more than a healthy dose of glitter and glam.
After a detour through Vanilla Ice’s and Grace Jones’ closets with a flip-through a milk crate full of Gary Numan, Erasure, and dare I say, Snow 12-inch singles, Diamond Rings (Toronto artist and musician Johnny O’Regan, aka Johnny O) hit the stage armed with some of the most infectious synth-pop hooks and Flock of Seagulls guitar noodlings this side of the fallen Berlin wall.
Seemingly paying homage to Klaus Nomi, the towering O’Regan’s entrance in a silver blanket with illumined glasses for the opener “Everything Speaks” was stellar and brought a welcomed air of performance to the show. The other band members in matching jackets, hats, tank tops, and glasses provided a compelling backdrop for O’s Max Headroom melon and Cher-like outfit changes.
Drawing heavily from sophomore album Free Dimensional, the four-piece (Johnny O on guitar with a keyboardist, drummer and second guitarist) bathed the crowd in unabashed, un-ironic sentiment.
While there is no Pulitzer Prize for lyrics in O’s future, there is something disarming about the wide-eyed, innocence and optimism conveyed in “Hand Over My Heart” and the sonically contagious “Runaway Love,” which captivates and enthralls with its genuine sincerity and sing-a-long chorus.
Like the equally as glamorous Patrick Wolf, Diamond Rings doesn’t rest on good looks and memorable songs alone; O verged on Tasmanian in his devilish mania and intensity, and he exuded a joy that radiated more strongly with each song.
Case in point, while subdued on the album, “Put Me On” roared live and was the jewel of the set, toppling the brilliant single “I’m Just Me” from its perch there.
Ironically, the only lowlight was the encore closer/album closer “Day & Night.” The naff, cringe-worthy element of its “1-2 buckle my shoe” refrain was amplified live and its mid-song rap couldn’t rescue it.
However, even with this closing misstep, the show cannot be seen as anything other than a triumph. O’s unrestrained and inhabited passion buoyed the evening above the highest expectations. Likewise, his energy seems boundless, which bodes well because he seems to have what it takes to carry Diamond Rings the distance, burning his name into your heart while he does it.
–Words and photo by Chris “Gutter” Rose