Love Binds the World: My Brightest Diamond at St. Mark’s Cathedral

Wealth disparity between young and old Americans is greater than any time in history, and yet every day culture bridges generations like it hasn’t in over half a century. This past Saturday night, for instance, 450 Seattleites of wildly diverging ages huddled among the pews inside St. Mark’s Cathedral in mutual, moon-eyed reverence of pop music made mostly by women.

My Brightest Diamond was the main attraction, the solo project of operatically-trained singer/multi-instrumentalist Shara Worden. Worden’s hour-long performance was daffy, provocative, intimate, gorgeous—typical characteristics of her music amplified by St. Mark’s austere, soaring interior. She entered the room from the back wearing a pink, pom-pommed shirt and bulbous, black-eyed paper-mache mask. Behind her, the cathedral’s ornate, modernist rose window glowed against the darkness outside. Dancing to a minimal drum-machine beat, before she took the low, open stage she led the audience in a chant: Love binds the world… Love binds the world…

For accompaniment, Worden rotated between ukulele, electric thumb piano, electric guitar, autoharp and desk-sized Korg keyboard; her voice was lead instrument. It veered from womanly and robust to small and vulnerable, a precision instrument with astounding range. She sang with the fully-immersed authority of an auteur or visionary, songs that ranged from desperately personal confession to globally-aware political admonition. She covered “Feelin’ Good,” a British theater song made famous by Nina Simone, with raw, uplifted gravitas that echoed Simone’s own. 

“Everything I say in here sounds… like… this…” she said between songs, gesturing like Cicero addressing the Senate, one hand on her heart, the other holding up the air. It was true: St. Mark’s reverb-heavy acoustics let her every murmur linger like a penitent wish. There was no discerning the end of one note and the beginning of the next.

After opening with several puckish, light-hearted numbers, her set came to its crux with a deep keyboard drone and plodding digital drum beat, “Be Brave” could’ve been, like a previous song, dedicated to her son, though this one, referencing oil spills, floods, and fires was more anxious wake-up call than gentle ode:

Be brave dear one
Be changed or be undone
Be brave dear one
Be changed or be undone

She played several more songs, including the noir-R&B sizzle of the XX-like “Dream Away,” performed for only the second time, and then the encore. Worden emerged from backstage and sang a song unmiked a capella in the middle of the room. Its lyrics were hard to discern but its melody volleyed through the cathedral like a prayer on its way heavenward.

Portland’s Kelli Schaefer opened the show and provided the evening’s most poignant moment. After a few delicately delivered songs from Ghost of the Beast (her debut from earlier this year; one of this year’s most powerful records) that found her voice almost tangibly filling the room, she brought her mom onstage to sing backup on “Gone in Love.” Schaefer addresses her mother directly in the song, and doing so with her present, on-stage and singing, was an act of ravishing bravery:

But when you say
‘It broke my heart’
I fell in love
With your trying
And I want you to know that
There is nothing you have done
That has been wasted.

Tears were visible in the well-lit audience. 

Local folk trio Cataldo filled the middle slot unassumingly. Polite, chatty, smart, and low-key, their music was a welcome palate cleanser between Schaefer and Worden’s emotionally devastating sets.

What does it mean when parents and their kids sit together and enjoy the same music? It could be that they’re settling for middle-of-the-road milquetoastiness; it happens. Saturday, however, suggested that after decades of knee-jerk pop-culture rebellion and youth fetishization, we’ve reached a well-adjusted point of mutual appreciation for good things. If today’s economy push generations to anitpodes—not entirely true; we’re all equally screwed by our capitolist-consumer society—today’s musicians brings them together. It’s not cultural revolution, it’s cultural evolution.

Photo of My Brightest Diamond by Abbey Simmons of Sound on the Sound