Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Tiger Lillies, Beck's Verandah, Perth Concert Hall

They're the ones with the white painted faces.

Last night MFC took me to the Tiger Lillies as an early Valentine's Day present. We don't take The Day too seriously, and I certainly wouldn't throw a tanty if I didn't get anything, but it's a nice excuse to get each other presents.

Heck, if I were single right now, I'd probably get myself a V-Day present anyway, and it would probably be a lot more extravagant* than the one I've given MFC (tickets in the first three rows to see Dylan Moran in April :)

It was on Beck's Verandah, an outdoor area in the concert hall, made cosy with sofas and platforms.

Beck's Verandah at intermission.

When the Tiger Lillies started their performance, I thought I'd been kidnapped and locked in the Red Room from Twin Peaks. You know, the one in the Black Lodge? With the dancing dwarf? Where everyone speaks in riddles and funny voices? If you don't remember this room by now, my heart bleeds for you poor souls deprived of David Lynch's magic/LSD trips.

It's called a montage! (Montage!)
Actually, I'm not really sure if this is a montage . . .

I couldn't tell if the vocalist's painted-on smile was red or black. His facial contortions emulated pain and joy, usually at the same time. Not someone you'd like to be locked in a dark room with . . .

What surprised me most was the music. When I hear the word "cabaret", I think of a feminine presence. Liza Minelli, and sultry women in dark bars. I was surprised at how effectively this all-male group pulled it off. The songs changed on the turn of a pin, from raucous, ribald, and offensive to sensitive, beautiful, haunting.

A warning here, to the meek. Do not go to see the Tiger Lillies if you're easily offended. Their songs incorporate themes of sodomy, zoophilia, rape, murder, incest, suicide; the whole spectrum of human depravity.

It's amazing how music can disguise ugliness. If someone spoke the words of the lyrics to me, in conversation, I would be appalled. Instead I was slightly discomfited, but almost too mesmerised to care.

I certainly didn't applaud at the end of "Banging in the Nails", a song about the crucifixion, although I appreciated the rollicking beat of the music. What annoyed me more was the way some of the audience reacted to the song.

There was a group of people that we met up with there, friends that MFC and I mostly see at parties. Most of them are atheist, which is fine by me, each to his own, but some of them are fiercely, arrogantly, in-your-face atheist. Actually, they're more anti-God than atheist. They basically think Christians are self-deluding morons, and go on the offense if the topic of religion comes up. Not very tolerant or enlightened, if you ask me.

At the end of "Banging in the Nails", there was a palpable pause, and then some clapping, but the people with us seemed to over-react, cheering and hooting like howler monkeys. It sounded childish and spiteful to me. I mean, you don't see Christians going, "Blow up the Void! Yeah, atheists suck!"


I'm not saying blasphemy is OK, but it has its uses. It made me examine why I disapproved, and gave me a little shake, in the midst of my complacency. Still, when vegetarians, who say they can't bear for animals to be hurt, start cheering wildly at the thought of a man having nails driven through his limbs, you'll forgive me for rolling my eyes a bit.

I think I mostly preferred their ballads, although if the concert had been all mournful ballads it would have all been a bit too emo. A song about witnessing a death under the blood red moon made the hairs on my neck shiver, and another tune about the protagonist having hamsters shoved up his bottom and rupturing his colon brought to mind crass school boys trying to out-shock one another.

"Mostly obvious," I heard a stranger mutter behind me in a blasé tone of voice, at the conclusion of the hamster song.

And then a song about suicide made me cry.

It started with, "You cut your throat," and in the middle was a line was about trying to get into heaven, "God you can't get in." Like that, with no commas. At the end of the song, a bubble broke inside me and to my surprise, two tears crept slowly down my cheeks. The wind dried them quickly.

It all went by in a whirl: sex with flies, kicking babies down the stairs, pimps and whores, decay, time, murder, torture, transvestites, amputees, masturbation, sung in a beautiful, pure falsetto or a brutish growl, with crystal enunciation, sometimes with delicate piano accompaniment, or mournful musical saw. Most often with an accordion that seemed to have a voice of its own.

The Tiger Lillies work as a cohesive group, and so they should, with a partnership spanning more than a decade. Martyn Jacques, the vocalist/accordionist/pianist is the circus ringmaster. He cracks his voice like a whip, driving the other two relentlessly before him.

The drummer, Adrian Huge, is the clown, alternatively mocking and servile, and is marvelously dexterous, both on the drums and in juggling the toys that he uses to illustrate the music. I've never seen anyone playing the drum with a rubber baby doll before.

Adrian Stout is the calm that keeps them from flying off into the ether. His double bass provides a strong, grounding foundation to their counterpoint and rhythm.

It was an incredible show, but I don't know if I could see them again for a while. It was like being thrown into the deep end of a wine vat. I'll certainly be looking out for their music on CDs and the Internet though.

My apologies if this review sounds elaborate and sentimental, but it seems you can't see the Tiger Lillies without faffing on like a Byron-esque baroque fanboy.

And I didn't know you could play a saw more beautifully than a cello!

The end.

* This is a person who gave herself a week's holiday in Margaret River as a birthday present last year. Mmm, a fabulous present for the one I love. Me.