I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Nina Diaz’s solo gig at Hotel Café. I’ve been a fan of the band that she fronts, Girl In A Coma , for several years now and having seen them perform live three times (including the day before at the Ink-N-Iron Festival , I guess I kind of assumed that she would be doing acoustic covers of their recordings from the past four albums. It wasn’t that. It was so much better.
Before delving into her set, let me first get this out of the way: I’m in love with Nina’s voice. She is a tour de force. She can sing with sultry inflection or belt out punk choruses, and she does it with what seems to be the greatest of ease. I’m a grown ass man, but I’ll have to admit, after listening to songs like “Adjust”, “Smart” and “So” off of Girl In Coma’s album “Exits and All the Rest” , I fell in love with Nina’s voice like I did back in middle school when I heard Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love” and “I Don’t Wanna Cry”. It’s comparing apple to oranges- their vocal styles are completely different- but I think that you get the picture.
Nina’s set consisted of material that I’d never heard before. With just her voice, her guitar and a set of loop-pedals, she delivered a powerfully emotional set that really was something truly breathtaking to behold. Through her new songs, it felt as if she was telling the sold-out audience of 140 patrons about what she had been going through in her life. Yes, the songs were heavy- delivered with either pent up, fierce fury, or gentle, thoughtful, longing- but Nina engaged the audience in between her songs with playful banter to relieve any tensions her lyrics may have imparted.
Before the third song, she dedicated it to the Spurs, and wanted us to imagine the Spurs wearing nothing but spurs. After another song, she explained that song and the lyrics “Do you really love me the way you say you do?” is actually about Karma… a very nice prostitute who’ll give you everything you deserve. She even made some lighthearted confessions about the music she had written, admitting when she used the same chord progressions on two separate songs.
But there is no getting around the heaviness of music. She wrote a song about those who go through bad stuff in life and keep it all in. She wrote an empowerment song about not knowing what kind of person you truly are until you go through a bad break up (“Fall In Love”). She wrote another song that I think she called a “wedding singer song” about her ex- who she made a subtle jab at by calling him a dick … okay, maybe not that subtle- that had the defiant lyrics, “One last kiss, one that you’ll never miss […] all he seems to care about is friends, fame, name [.]”
Perhaps the most heartbreaking song she sang was the song she dedicated to her father, “Mortician’s Musician” (in case you didn’t know, or couldn’t tell, her father is a mortician). I had shivers run down my spine, and goose bumps pop up on my arm, when she sang the lyrics, “I’m not a fool for writing songs, I’m a fool for trying to get you to sing along.” <sob> I desperately want to hear that song again.
She closed her set with a cover of the INXS song “Never Tear Us Apart”- very apropos- but the audience wouldn’t let her leave the stage that easily. She agreed to sing one more song, and advised the audience that she hadn’t planned on singing a Girl In A Coma song, but ended up performing “El Monte” to close out the evening.
Afterwards, I met up with a friend I had invited to the show. The first thing she said to me was that it was the first time, in a long time, that a singer has ever made her laugh and cry at a concert. It went without saying. We experienced something magical that night.
I grabbed the set list from the stage, and went to the merchandise booth to say, “Hi,” to Phanie (drums for Girl in a Coma) and Jenn (bass for Girl In A Coma). I waited for Nina and got her to autograph the set list and the poster that I had ganked from the wall (just so you don’t think I’m a clepto, I asked the bouncer if I could first!). I chatted with some of her friends while her fans greeted her. Sneaking in during a lull, I bid my adieu and head off.
On the 45-minute drive home, I tried to put into context what I had experienced. I’ve been to a lot of amazing shows this year, but this one was different. I got emotionally involved at this show. And as cheese-ball as it may sound, with Nina sharing bits and pieces of her life, I had become emotionally invested in Nina’s story. In the intimate, dimly-lit venue, for the first time, I felt her frustrations, pain, heartache, longing, revival, strength … the gamut of emotions cover the spectrum. The fact that she performed alone on stage also added a certain gravitas and intimacy with her outpouring of personal history. It almost felt like she was confiding in us.
I plugged my phone into the car stereo and began playing the video clips I had taken. When the clip of “For You” started playing I started thinking of Jeff Buckley’s “Live in Sin-e” recordings. When you get me thinking about one my all-time favorite recordings, you’ve left an impression. Nina left an impression. Whether these new songs are recorded with Girl In A Coma, or whether she puts it out as solo material, people need to hear this music. If Nina ever has a solo gig in your neighborhood, you’d be a fool not to go. Puro heart. Puro rock and roll.
Below, I’ve included several snippets from the show. My only regret is that I wish I had taken more footage.
UPDATE: 11/14/13: God bless the soul who recorded Nina’s entire set and posted it to Youtube. Now you can watch her amazing solo gig in its entirety.