A fierce front woman on stage, Nina Diaz hung outside of Alex’s Bar in Long Beach before her Friday night show calmly chatting with band mates by their tour van. The venue is familiar digs for Diaz, becoming a favored stop on numerous tours with Girl in a Coma over the years, the San Antonio trio that propelled her into the spotlight ten years ago. For the past two years, the acclaimed singer ventured here on a solo journey marked by the release of her debut album The Beat is Dead last October.
The Pride Season punks turned out for the Friday night show in full effect. Diaz sold copies of her album at the merch table and posed for pictures in between opening sets by Spare Parts for Broken Hearts and See. Diaz took the stage later in the night with her magenta hair contrasting with the blood red curtains of Alex’s Bar. The five-piece band kicked off the headlining show with The Beat is Dead‘s lead single “Trick Candle,” a synth-laden song that rides along pulsating bass lines to deliver a dance-inducing rhythm. An immediate musical departure from the trio punk of Girl in a Coma, Diaz felt out her front-woman freedom swaying around the stage without the shackled restraint of a guitar.
The show became an album performance going through the track list of The Beat is Dead in order. The aptly-titled “Rebirth” started off with caustic strumming that quickly quieted down, allowing for an irresistible cumbia-flavored anthem accentuated by keys to slither free. The song’s “I’m back from the dead, like I told you friend” declarations sum up the triumph over addictions theme of her solo venture. Diaz ditched her guitar for a guiro, striking the instrument with an intensity only outmatched by the wild flare of her eyes that accompanied every vocal inflection. Never one to take things too seriously, even in the introspection of her solo album, Diaz offered a joke at the song’s conclusion. “I also grate cheese with this,” she said of her instrument.
Diaz seemed more in her solo element onstage than the last time I saw her at Alex’s Bar two summers ago. Back then, The Beat is Dead remained in album release purgatory. But with the collection now unleashed upon the musical masses courtesy of Cosmica Records, the singer clearly feels more comfortable in her skin. She gave the audience different looks whether strumming a guitar, gripping a mic, striking a guiro, or dancing her way through an unsuspecting crowd with a tambourine in hand. Midway through the show, her magenta mane turned to sweat-drenched locks that sprinkled the crowd with every whip of her hair.
The set list continued to curve through different musical moods of The Beat is Dead. “Fall in Love” softened the tone blissfully with radio ready pop influences. The synth-heavy “Screaming Without a Sound” turned up the ferocity blistering Alex’s Bar with a crunching chorus that echoed off its walls. Being an emotional excavation, “Dig” summoned the brooding vibes of the album’s theme better than the rest. “For You” crawled to a quiet close with Diaz’s band letting the singer’s vocals shine alone with her guitar. And it’s that unrivaled voice—with all its quivers, range and dynamism—that held the crowd captive and brought Diaz this far ten years after first bursting on the scene with Girl in a Coma. And yes—Diaz announced the San Antonio trio is recording a new album.
But while the singer’s album performance at Alex’s Bar marked another notch in her one-show-at-a-time sobriety, she ended by paying tribute to one of her rock heroes who fell victim to his demons. Chris Cornell’s suicide last month hit Diaz hard, making mortality feel all the more real, especially with her own dances with the death drive. “Depression is another part of life,” Diaz told the crowd. “I’m finally satisfied with my life.”
The band ended the night with a perfectly executed cover of Soundgarden’s “Blow Up the Outside World” with Diaz’s wails giving a feminine feel to Cornell’s powerful vocals that fell silent too suddenly, too soon.