Concert Reviews

Pussy Riot's Nadya Tolokonnikova and Marina & the Diamonds Lit Deep Ellum on Fire

Nadya Tolokonnikova played two Deep Ellum shows on Saturday.
Nadya Tolokonnikova played two Deep Ellum shows on Saturday. Carly May
This past Saturday, if you weren't at either The Factory or Ruins in Deep Ellum, you missed something beyond special: a whole rainbow of emotions — from lily-white, pure love to deep-red anger — all without the need for any kind of high-grade pharmaceutical.

Nadya Tolokonnikova from the Russian activist group/pop-punk band Pussy Riot opened for Marina & the Diamonds, Marina Diamandis' distinctive, reinvented pop band at The Factory. A few hours later, Tolokonnikova crossed over to Commerce Street with her balaclava-clad backup dancers to Ruins for a live show in the bar's Limbo Room, where she delivered a performance that split open audience members' ears with a piercing, giant "Fuck you" to the world's fascists, starting with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin.
click to enlarge Nadya Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot came to Dallas this weekend for a revolution. - CARLY MAY
Nadya Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot came to Dallas this weekend for a revolution.
Carly May
Tolokonnikova may have been in town to open for Marina, but the legend of Tolokonnikova's Pussy Riot project, the all-girl punk group that became one of Putin's many political prisoners by performing their anarchic sounds in public, cast a glow of rage and hope over Deep Ellum just a few days after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Marina and Tolokonnikova have much to say through their music, and theirs was a perfect pairing for the night's back-to-back concerts. Both artists have taken the tired, recycled sound of electronic, pop-rock and and turned it into delivery vehicles for compassion, hope, peace and acceptance. Unlike most pop groups with a sound manufactured by marketing teams, they have more ground to cover lyrically beyond universal themes like heartbreak and lust and the overused sounds of  "Oooo (boy/girl)."

Hopefully, people like Dixie D'Amelio are paying attention. Marina and Tolokonnikova's music does more than just make a quick buck. It actually speaks to their people.
click to enlarge Marina & the Diamonds played a gem of a set on Saturday at The Factory. - CARLY MAY
Marina & the Diamonds played a gem of a set on Saturday at The Factory.
Carly May
Marina's show may have been slightly lighter in terms of the overall tone of the evening but she came armed with a commanding presence through a strong voice and a mission statement. She walked out to a wall of screams and cheers in a cheetah leotard and spread an infectious, electrifying energy throughout The Factory's space.

"It's so good to see your faces," Marina said at the start of her Saturday show. She opened with "Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land," a perfect choice given the state of the world.
click to enlarge Marina & the Diamonds was the perfect pairing with Pussy Riot. - CARLY MAY
Marina & the Diamonds was the perfect pairing with Pussy Riot.
Carly May

Marina's live vocals are just as impressive as her writing craft. The crowd went crazy after hearing the "La la las" for the opening of "Froot," the titular single off her third album. The sea of hands turned into a wheat field of raised hands with the occasional cell phone propped up trying to record a clip of the performance. The audience melted at the sound of the high note she hit in the middle of the song.
click to enlarge Marina's vocals were perfectly magical this weekend at her Dallas show. - CARLY MAY
Marina's vocals were perfectly magical this weekend at her Dallas show.
Carly May
Tolokonnikova opened for Marina at The Factory, the first of two of her shows in a long night in Deep Ellum. The Factory show was lighter, her electronic groove restrained, but Tolokonnikova did not hold back her feelings no matter how loud or pulsating the beat became. The entire night, Tolokonnikova was hyped by two dancers in dresses wearing the iconic Pussy Riot balaclavas that have become a modern-day Guy Fawkes mask in the face of autocratic rule.
click to enlarge Marina shone bright like a diamond at her Dallas show Saturday. - CARLY MAY
Marina shone bright like a diamond at her Dallas show Saturday.
Carly May
The height of Tolokonnikova's first show was a touching tribute to the people of Ukraine. The stage's curtain lights faded into yellow and black, mimicking the Ukrainian flag's colors, as Tolokonnikova poured her heart out for the people suffering over the whims of warmongers. You'd have to be Putin himself to not have been moved in the slightest.

Both of Tolokonnikova's sets were exceptional, but the Ruins show gave her a slight edge because she appeared unrestrained, almost unleashed on the crowd like some kind of caged animal that was itching to break loose and run toward its prey.
click to enlarge Nadya Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot gave us the moon at her show in - CARLY MAY
Nadya Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot gave us the moon at her show in
Carly May
"Fuck to Putin," Tolokonnikova said at the very start of her Ruins show to a screaming, standing-room crowd. "I hate that man so much. He's ruined so many lives."

At The Factory, Tolokonnikova started early, which alone was impressive. There were a few little production glitches in the beginning, but Tolokonnikova and her crew rolled with it. Her fearless dancers deserve a special mention because they never stopped moving the entire night through either show and kept the show and crowd going when Tolokonnikova needed a sip of Champagne to clear her throat or to step off for a minute.
click to enlarge A dancer for Nadya Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot, who opened for Marina & the Diamonds on Saturday night. - CARLY MAY
A dancer for Nadya Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot, who opened for Marina & the Diamonds on Saturday night.
Carly May
She opened with "Police State," a single from the Pussy Riot library with a pop edge, a cry for help in a sea of bewildering despair.

The deeper into her set, the darker the tone became as Tolokonnikova screamed lyrics into the mic, in English and Russian, wielding her red whip in between bars and song breaks. She swung from punk to peppy in a matter of seconds and gave the crowd a majestic sight.

Tolokonnikova's shows are something Deep Ellum music fans will be talking about for years. Her presence, musical dedication and activism gave us a palpable feeling of hope. While parts of our world continue to burn, she too lit a flame Dallas is unlikely to forget.
click to enlarge Tolokonnikova had one message for her native Russia: "Fuck to Putin." - CARLY MAY
Tolokonnikova had one message for her native Russia: "Fuck to Putin."
Carly May
click to enlarge The Pussy Riot show in Deep Ellum lit the crowd with hope. - CARLY MAY
The Pussy Riot show in Deep Ellum lit the crowd with hope.
Carly May
click to enlarge Pussy Riot played not one but two shows on Saturday night in Deep Ellum. - CARLY MAY
Pussy Riot played not one but two shows on Saturday night in Deep Ellum.
Carly May
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.