Backbeat: Diane Birch Plays Comeback Show, Dreams of Michael McDonald @ Joe's Pub
Backbeat: Diane Birch Plays Comeback Show, Dreams of Michael McDonald @ Joe's Pub
Jeff Benjamin
Piano Woman: Diane Birch's stripped comeback at Joe's Pub. (Photo: Jeff Benjamin/Billboard)

"This was the first show I played in probably six months. I just like to keep playing shows even if I don't have a lot of new things. I like to just keep playing shows and have my fans hear me perform," says singer-songwriter Diane Birch unwinding with a glass of wine after her first show of the night on Jan. 31 at Joe's Pub in New York. "This has kind of kicked it off though, I think now I'm getting ready to start getting back into performing, getting ready for the new record."

Birch has less than an hour between her next show, but she still takes a picture with a Long Island high school student covering the show for her school newspaper and plans to say hello to her fans outside. She is gearing up for the follow-up to her 2009 debut album Bible Belt. In her show, she varied from material from that album, tracks from her covers EP The Velveteen Age, as well as new album material. The performance included just Birch and a piano, with candles on the cover. While this show saw an extremely stripped down Birch, she says this is not necessarily the sound of the new album.

"This album is very multifaceted. It's got a lot of colors, shades. There is a lot of stuff that's just me and a piano but then there's a lot of stuff that's really produced, I guess there's a slight minimal quality to it, but it is more produced," she says of the upcoming album she spent the past year recording. "We're fusing a lot of elements sonically in the record that we didn't necessarily use in the first record. There were a lot of horns; it was a lot more of a soul thing. This one has different colors. It's definitely an evolution from the first album. An evolution for sure."

S-Curve Records CEO/President Steve Greenberg has noted the evolution in her performance style. While congratulating her backstage, he told the 28-year-old that after watching her for years, she's an even better performer.

manager
Birch and Greenberg backstage at Joe's Pub. (Photo: Jeff Benjamin)

The performance techniques Greenberg refers to included little chatter between the artist and the audience (though at one point Birch asks "Did Michael McDonald get here yet? He was supposed to sing back-up for me...oh wait, that was just my dream."), but the packed house still responded with loud cheers and applause after each song -- especially when it included improvisation on the piano.

One of the most striking moments of the show came with a performance of a new track thought to be titled "Diamond In The Dust," which is also the tagline of Birch's Twitter account ( @dianebirch). The lyrics in particular stood out, with lines such as, "'Cause I'm a dreamer, you're the dream. But dreams aren't always what they seem" and "Don't know where we're running to, don't know what we're running from," giving indication of strong material for the upcoming album.

Birch performed a few tracks from Bible Belt such as "Magic View," "Fools," and the show closer "Valentino."

Backstage was the bubbly and helpful Sharon Cho of Magus Entertainment, who works for Birch's manager Wendy Laister. Duran Duran, Daniel Beddingfield, Kaci Battaglia, and several producers are all represented by Magnus Entertainment too.

And how did Birch feel about the performance? "It's just great to get back on a stage. It's just really nice to kind of just take a crack at playing some new things and see how people react to it. I haven't been performing for this whole past year. I love performing so much, to get back to the stage, I'm like 'Yes! I want to master this! I want to master this show!' Just play for people and have fun. I'm feeling like I'm sinking into it a lot more now," she says, also noticing her growth. "The first record was hard. I never really played a lot of shows. I hadn't really done TV stuff. I wasn't used to having cameras in my face and all of sudden I was like 'Aaahh!' and now I just sort of feel at ease, in a way; I mean, I still get nervous. It's just really nice. I just feel really lucky to have such supportive fans. I just feel real warm and fuzzy, without sounding like a cheeseball."

Looking to the future, Birch feels confident about 2012. "This last year was just so difficult in so many ways, just trying to get the album together, and it was kind of a struggle; it was a lot of trial and error. And now we're really kind of full steam ahead; I've really figured it out. And that was kind of the whole challenge, figuring out what this record was going to be like and now I'm like, 'Yes! I'm ready! I'm ready to go!'" She adds as a pacifying note to fans: "Just be patient because my album's coming and I'm ready to go for it. I'm ready!"

Jeff Benjamin
Stripped Showcase: Birch kept it simple with herself, a piano, and various colored lights for her intimate performance. (Photo: Jeff Benjamin/Billboard)