Diane Coffee is the creation of Shaun Fleming, the drummer of Foxygen, and the band brews an appealing blend of American roots music, soul, rock and roll, gospel, R&B and the blues. Fleming combines this survey sound with a strong stage presence reminiscent of Motown and David Bowie, perfecting a fluidly flowing performance — even when things go awry.
Last night, Diane Coffee played at Lost Lake Lounge, and two distinctive local bands opened the show: I Am Love and Flaural. I Am Love is a four-piece band that focuses on slow-tempo, blue-eyed-soul love ballads. At one point in its set, the lead singer switched from playing the guitar to an electric auto harp. The highlight of the set was when the band covered “Hey Love,” by the Delfonics.
Flaural, another Denver four-piece ensemble, transfixed the audience with a variety of well-composed sounds that reminded me of Tame Impala, Radiohead and the Smiths. Each member holds a unique position in the band and brings equal amounts of effort and style to the catalogue.
By the time Diane Coffee began its set, Lost Lake was tightly packed with die-hard fans. The band wore matching suits with bolo ties, while Fleming presented himself in a well-fitted women’s suit. First off, Fleming’s stage presence is astonishing. At one time he was a Disney voice actor, and that ability transfers to his very animated live sets. He captures all of his emotion in body movements and facial gestures. Watching Fleming perform, you can tell that he has conducted thorough research and perfected some of the most iconic bandleader movements, resulting in a mash-up of Dr. Frank-N-Furter and James Brown, exerting high levels of energy, trying to escape the imprisonment of this little man’s body.
Not long into the set, Fleming had some technical difficulties with his amplifier, which left the band short one guitarist. The other musicians proved to be seasoned and competent, though, and you could not tell they were down a man. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m giving up the guitar,” Fleming told the crowd.
Behind the band, four hexagonal screens projected odd imagery, from 1980s Taco Bell advertisements to Detroit newscasts. In the middle of the set, Fleming left the stage while the band played a funky instrumental, reminiscent of Daptone Records' backing bands. When Fleming materialized from the crowd, he was wearing a 1980s women’s gold-sequined jumpsuit, complete with a black-velvet midsection and leggings that resembled classic theater curtains.
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By the second-to-last song, Fleming had plugged into a second amplifier and fixed the sound issues, allowing Diane Coffee to end on a strong note. On the last four bars of the final song Fleming jumped on top of the two amplifiers behind him with his back to the crowd, guitar raised high, striking the stature of a T-Rex-style rock god.
As with Foxygen, Diane Coffee mixes up a bunch of personas, mixing and meshing genres, stage presence and iconic pleasures to create a collage of personality. The band has impeccable taste when it comes to songwriting and structure, and the musicians themselves embody their musical influences in a powerful way. Overall, Diane Coffee's allure emanates from its on-stage presence, how the band and its charismatic frontman's knowledge of music history and mystery can fill up a room.