When the Tiger Lillies take the stage tonight at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, England, I really hope lead singer Martyn Jacques begins the show by declaring, “This is a play Lou Reed and Metallica stole from Frank Wedekind—we’re here to steal it back!”
Yes, the Tiger Lillies’ latest opus, a 19-song suite called Lulu – A Murder Ballad, is based on the same source material as the ill-fated “Loutallica” collaboration Lulu from a few years back. Both draw their inspiration from a pair of pitch-black plays by the German playwright Frank Wedekind, about a dancer-turned-prostitute named Lulu who endures a series of abusive sexual relationships in turn-of-the-century Berlin, Paris and London on her way to an untimely demise. With all due respect to the late, legendary Lou Reed—truly one of the greatest artists ever to wield a black leather jacket and an electric guitar—I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Tiger Lillies’ version will be the better of the two. At the very least, it will almost certainly not feature any songs in which Jacques declares himself to be a table.
The Lillies have already been performing Lulu – A Murder Ballad elsewhere around Europe, but tonight marks the show’s premiere performance in their native Blighty. It also marks the first release of the show in album form.
For now, the only places you’ll be able to see Lulu are Leeds, Coventry and Manchester—for full dates, visit the Tiger Lillies’ website. But Martyn and the boys tour more or less non-stop, so I’m sure they’ll be mounting further presentations of it (complete with visuals by Mark Holthusen) elsewhere around the demimonde in the months ahead.
We’ll leave you with the first official video from from Lulu: “Jack,” an eerie meditation on the mind of Jack the Ripper. Not only was Jack a character in Pandora’s Box, the second of the two Lulu plays; he was played in the original production by the playwright Wedekind himself. No wonder the Tiger Lillies were drawn to this guy’s work.
There’s nothing that makes our hearts and various other organs swell with greater pride than the sight of two entrants on our esteemed Weird List making beautiful music together. So when murderously dark cabaret cellist Miss Von Trapp shared with us this video of her and chap-hop luminary Professor Elemental giving the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” a good jolly rogering, our hearts were swollen fair to bursting. The less said about what it did to our other organs, the better.
So it appears that while we were mucking about with Facebook polls and Valentine’s Day playlists, the Tiger Lillies released their new album. It’s called Either Or and it’s available now in good old-fashioned CD form on the band’s website. You can preview snippets of all 16 tracks on Last.fm, but it appears the only way to hear the whole thing is to buy it. What a novel concept!
The Lillies describe it as one of their weirdest-sounding albums, and based on what we’ve heard so far, we can’t argue. It’s loosely based on the writings of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, specifically a portion of his 1834 work Either/Or called “The Seducer’s Diary,” which sets forth the notion that pleasure-seeking is the noblest pursuit and “all evil deeds are justified as long as they give meaning to people’s existence.” (Jake will be thrilled to hear this, since it’s pretty much how he’s lived his whole life anyway.) On many of the songs, Martyn Jacques seems to be using less of his trademark falsetto, and guest multi-instrumentalist David Coulter provides some new sounds and textures by playing everything from banjo, ukulele and violin to nose flute, jew’s saw, weeping saws, maracas, omnichord and clackamore. (We’d never heard of that last one, either; apparently it’s a kind of jew’s harp.) The album is also the first to feature new drummer Mike Pickering.
In support of Either Or, the Tiger Lillies have put together something new and different (would you expect anything less?): the “Either/Or Cabaret,” set in 1937 Shanghai, which was nicknamed “Sin City” because of its decadent nightclubs. The cabaret features not just the Lillies themselves but 10 Danish and Chinese actors playing various chanteuses, dancers and nightclub patrons. Unfortunately, as of now, the only place you can see the show is in, well, Shanghai—where it’s running now through March 3rd at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre. After that, the Lillies have a few upcoming performances in France, Britain, Germany and Istanbul, which you can learn more about here. No further dates for the Either/Or Cabaret have been announced, but something tells us we haven’t seen the last of it.
Till then, we’ll tide you over with this Either/Or Cabaret promo video. Looks pretty decadent, all right.
Well, after a humdinger of a Facebook poll, we are ready to crown our first Weird Band of the Week of 2013. Or maybe we’ll crown the severed head that accompanies her at most of her shows. Apparently the head is named Anne Boleyn, so that seems more appropriate.
Miss Von Trapp is the stage persona of one Lizzi Fugeman. She hails from England, plays the cello and sings Goth-Victorian folks songs about children being poisoned by eels and the inner musings of Jack the Ripper and other such cheery subjects. She also wears stripey stockings and creepy doll makeup. She calls her music “Murderously Quirky Dark Cello Cabaret” and “performance poetry to revolt and entertain.” She’s kind of Rasputina meets the Tiger Lillies meets the room this old spinster named Priscilla kept full of creaky antique toys on the street where I grew up. If that room had had a soundtrack, I bet it would’ve sounded exactly like Miss Von Trapp. Come to think of it, what the hell was I ever doing in that room? My parents did not inculcate me with a proper sense of Stranger Danger. If I were the subject of a Miss Von Trapp song, I surely would have met an untimely end.
Miss Von Trapp has a new album called Songs to Die For coming out later this year, which you’ll no doubt be able to read all about here, as soon as we can wheedle a copy out of her. Meantime, here she is performing a pair of original songs, “Tragic Moments” and “Roses Are Red,” at something called the Dolly Delights Burlesque Peep Show and Cabaret. Oh, those saucy Brits and their salacious peep shows, featuring buxom cello players in doll makeup and granny glasses. Be still my boiling tea bags!
- Miss Von Trapp official site
- Miss Von Trapp’s LiveJournal
- Miss Von Trapp on Facebook
- Miss Von Trapp on Soundcloud
P.S. We’re still recuperating from our latest Facebook poll, but we’ll have a new one soon. Promise.
This week’s weird band was suggested by a reader named Thomas, aka Dr. Benway, whose profile on deviantART.com is really cool but also makes us hope we never run into him in a dark alley. Fortunately, he lives in South Africa, so we’re probably safe.
Thomas recommended that we check out the Tiger Lillies, a London trio who have been doing the whole Brechtian punk cabaret thing since before the Dresden Dolls were even a gleam in Amanda Palmer’s heavily mascara’d eye. Truly, these guys are pioneers, and they don’t really get the credit they deserve, probably because they’re morbid and British and the lead singer is a chubby guy in whiteface who plays the accordion and sings in a castrati-style falsetto. They’re too scary for the old-timey/hot jazz crowd and not sexy and/or edgy enough for the goth/steampunk crowd. But they’re kinda cooler than either of those scenes, and at least twice as original.
The Tiger Lillies were founded in 1989 by Martyn Jacques, a
classically trained self-taught opera singer and accordion player who, according to his official bio, lived above a brothel in London’s Soho district. Jacques joined forces with percussionist Adrian Huge and, eventually, bassist/Theremin/musical saw player Adrian Stout, who came on board in 1995. Together they developed a style of music that mixed jazz, punk, English music hall, gypsy folk, French chanson, show tunes, Threepenny Opera and Tom Waits-ish musical primitivism, all held together by a jet-black sensibility (most of their songs are about criminals, pimps, prostitutes, drugs, murder, suicide, and children meeting untimely ends; they’ve done an entire album inspired by Edward Gorey stories, if that gives you an idea) and Jacques’ squeezed-nads falsetto, which one reviewer described as sounding “as though a dove has flown out of his throat. A mangled, bloody dove but still.”
The Tiger Lillies are ridiculously prolific, having recorded more than 30 albums during their 20-odd-year career. But they’re probably best-known for their musical, Shockheaded Peter, which won a pair of Olivier Awards when it ran on London’s West End (England’s version of Broadway) in 2002. Based on a series of gruesome children’s stories written by a German lunatic asylum doctor in the 1840′s, the songs are all equal parts horrifying and hilarious, with lots of lyrics about what happens to “naughty romping girls and boys/Who tear their clothes and make a noise.” (No, they don’t just get sent to the naughty step. Mostly, they meet untimely ends.)
Live, the Lillies seem like some kind of strange Victorian carnival act come to life, with Jacques done up in grotesque clown paint and all three dressed like 19th century gangsters. Decent live clips of them on YouTube are frustratingly hard to come by, but here’s a TV show perfomance of “Bully Boys,” one of the songs from Shockheaded Peter, that gives you a pretty good idea of what they’re ab0ut. Klaus Nomi meets Tom Waits meets Jacques Brel? Something like that.
(P.S. The Lillies’ latest project premieres in Paris next month: a stage adaptation of Coleridge’s epic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. We’ll post a full report on the show after it opens; in the meantime, you can get updates on “ROAM” by visiting the blog of its visual artist, Mark Holthusen.)
(Photo by Austin Young)
Today’s band was suggested by a reader called Hola-Ebola…and no, they have nothing to do with the Jackass-like British TV series Dirty Sanchez, although those guys are pretty great. This Dirty Sanchez is an electroclash band from Los Angeles. What is electroclash, you ask? Well, I’m no expert, but as far as I can tell, it seems to be an intentionally cheesy/campy style of dance music with lots of songs about cocaine and gay sex and Hollywood. I think Lady Gaga probably ripped off half her act from the electroclash scene.
Anyways, there are loads of weird electroclash acts out there, like Fischerspooner, Peaches, Chicks on Speed and Princess Superstar. But Dirty Sanchez stand out for a couple reasons. First, many of their songs are just flat-out, hilariously bizarre, as you can tell from just the song titles alone: “Fucking on the Dancefloor,” “Really Rich Italian Satanists,” “Tranny Sex,” “We Hate Youth and Beauty.” Second, they seem to be one of the few (only?) electroclash bands to feature a full-on tranvestite as one of their lead singers. His/her name is Jackie Beat and even though I feel kinda gay for saying this, she rules. In their early videos, she’s like a cross between Dee Snider and Cher. Now she looks more like a cross between Eddie Izzard and that fat chick from The Gossip, but she’s still pretty fabulous. (Did I just use the word “fabulous” to describe a drag queen? Wow, now I really feel gay.)
Dirty Sanchez seem to have been inactive since 2008–that’s the last time their website news was updated (back then, they said they were working on a new album, their second one, but it doesn’t seem like it’s ever come out) and also the year they released a new single, “Give Head and Be Beautiful.” Here’s the video for it, which for our money is the most awesomely weird thing they’ve ever done. Next time I go out dancing, I’m totally gonna picture everyone with their heads off.
(Update: It seems like Jackie Beat is now based in New York and might be more focused on her cabaret act and her solo career–although it also seems like she forgot to pay her domain name bill, so it’s hard for us to confirm this. Still, this parody video posted in late 2009 does feature fellow Dirty Sanchezian Mario Diaz, so there’s still hope we may hear more from Dirty Sanchez yet.)
We were turned on (no pun intended) to today’s weird band by my friend Julia, who knows people in that whole polyamory community—you know, the people we used to called “swingers,” before they decided to develop a whole code of ethics and openness and mutual consent and take all the fun out of sleeping around. (I kid, I kid! Polyamory rocks, if that’s your thing. I can barely handle one intimate relationship at a time, but that’s just me.) Anyway, apparently this duo called The Wet Spots is pretty popular with the poly crowd—as well they should be. I mean, being kinky has always sounded like fun—but rarely has it sounded this totally adorable and non-threatening, too.
The Wet Spots are a husband and wife duo from Vancouver—yes, they’re Canadian, which makes sense given that Canada is easily the most adorable and non-threatening nation in the Western Hemisphere. Before they were the Wet Spots, Cass King was a sex columnist, and John Woods played in punk bands. Now they present themselves as sort of a hotel lounge act that does breezy, jazzy songs about anal sex, fisting, foot fetishes, polyamory and pretty much anything else you can think of that any combination of healthy, open-minded folks might do to get each other off. It’s like Cole Porter meets Penthouse Forum, except the girls get to come more. And the Cole Porter stand-in isn’t wearing any pants.
To get a sense a better sense of The Wet Spots’ unique mix of naughty and nice, there’s a clip of them doing a show at Burning Man in 2008 that’s pretty fun. (You’ll know they’re really at Burning Man about 25 seconds in, when a dude in Mad Max drag walks through the frame looking for a seat.) But to really hear them at their most outrageous, we just had to present the official video for their most famous song, “Do You Take It?” Totally NSFW…and totally adorable. Oh, Canada.
- The Wet Spots official site (Note: Literally as we were writing this, the entire site was replaced with an “Account Suspended” screen. Looks like somebody
‘s a prudeforgot to pay their domain hosting bill!)(Newer note: It’s back up again. Whew!)
- The Wet Spots on MySpace
- The Wet Spots on Facebook
- The Wet Spots Work Up a Blather (Wet Spots official blog)
(Photo by Carl Saytor)
Today’s TWBITW entry was suggested to us by one of our readers, Marc Blazel*, who turned us on to the fabulously bizarre gypsy/punk/folk/beatbox stylings of one Sxip Shirey. Sxip (we still have no idea how to pronounce that) is one of those guys who uses everyday objects as instruments and instruments as, well, objects—not necessarily a weird or original idea in and of itself, but the music he conjures up with that approach definitely exists in its own little universe.
His bio page, which also features a nifty little short film about the man and his madcap music, mentions such contraptions as “Industrial Flutes, Bullhorn Harmonicas, Regurgitated Music Box, Triple Extended Pennywhistls [sic], Miniature Hand Bell Choir, Obnoxiophone.” All of which might sound totally random and made up, but we’re pretty sure those are all actual Shirey “instruments.” We can vouch for the existence of the Industrial Flute and the Bullhorn Harmonica, at least. (We’ll get back to the Bullhorn Harmonica in a sec.)
Beyond that, we haven’t been able to suss out much about Shirey, except that he’s based in New York, has worked some with folks like author Neil Gaiman and singer-songwriter Jason Webley (one-half of another TWBITW favorite, Evelyn Evelyn), and he’s also part of a band called Luminescent Orchestrii, which as near as we can tell is sort of a Gogol Bordello for the Fringe Festival crowd. He also has a new album out called Sonic New York, which is great. Among other things, it includes a spooky Portishead-meets-Regina Spektor cover of that old disco song “Ring My Bell.” We know that sounds terrible, but trust us, it actually kinda works.
Oh, about that Bullhorn Harmonica. It’s featured, along with beatboxing and some very funky tuba, on this song called “I Live in New York City,” which as far as we’re concerned should replace that fucking played-to-death “Empire State of Mind” monstrosity as the official Big Apple anthem immediately.
*Yes, we actually have readers—and what’s even more amazing, we do sometimes take suggestions from them. Email us at weirdestbandintheworld(at)gmail.com is you have a favorite weird band you’d like to see on The Weird List. But be prepared to be mocked ruthlessly if your idea of weird is, we dunno, Bowling for Soup or some shit.
Let’s be clear here: We’re not including Rasputina on TWBITW just because they’re a cello band. Lots of rock bands actually feature cellos (Avett Brothers, Belle & Sebastian, Ra Ra Riot, etc.) and another band, Apocalyptica, even uses the same format as Rasputina (multiple cellos + drum kit) to play something they call “symphonic metal,” which is arguably weirder that what Rasputina has traditionally stood for, i.e. chicks in quasi-Victorian garb doing sort of gothy chamber music.
No, the reason Rasputina rates a spot on The Weird List boils down to one thing: Melora Creager. Over Rasputina’s 15+ year history, she has proven herself time and again to be one of the most fabulously weird, eccentric characters in all of music. Without her unique songwriting style, her quirky obsessions with historical emphera, and her ingenuity for coaxing new sounds out of the cello, Rasputina would be a one-trick pony that wore out its welcome ages ago. Instead, they’ve managed to still sound fresh over five studio albums and various EPs and live discs. (The fact the band’s lineup has evolved even faster than Creager’s increasingly fanciful costumes probably hasn’t hurt, either.)
Rasputina is probably best-known for doing cellified (is that a word? is now!) versions of classic rock songs like “Barracuda” and Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” and they’ve also been known to breathe new life into creepy old folk songs (“Wicked Dickie,” a little dirge about “an old man who had but one cow,” is my personal favorite). Creager even released a limited-edition recording called Ancient Cross-Dressing Songs that features three…well, ancient cross-dressing songs. Like we said, this woman knows her ephemera.
But it’s Creager’s original songs that really make Rasputina stand out. Many of them delve into very specific historical material, like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire or the Year Without a Summer; some are based on 19th century pulp fiction (the truly excellent “My Captivity by Savages“) and other esoteric source material; some employ historical figures but are apparently just the product of Creager’s lurid imagination (“Incident in a Medical Clinic,” which casts Mary Todd Lincoln as a fevered madwoman leading an army of blimps…no, really). Other song titles speak for themselves: “Momma Was an Opium Smoker,” “Transylvanian Concubine,” “The Donner Party.” Then there’s “Choose Me for a Champion,” which is based on an Osama Bin Laden speech. Yep, for Creager, pretty much nothing is off-limits.
The best part? Much of Rasputina’s music is actually downright catchy, despite its frequently bizarre subject matter and the fact that most of what you’re hearing is cellos. Okay, the song about Josef Mengele is a bit of a downer, but much of the Rasputina catalog is actually quite beautiful, or rockin’, or often both.
Rasputina’s sixth studio album, Sister Kinderhook, comes out this summer on Creager’s own Filthy Bonnet label. We’re stockpiling absinthe in preparation for a marathon listening session the day it comes out.
Apart from a rather ridiculous clip dating back to their brief stint on Columbia Records in the late ’90s, Rasputina haven’t done much in the way of music videos–which is too bad, because Creager’s doll-like features and steam-punky fashion sense are pretty photogenic. Still, this live clip of a track from the group’s best (IMHO) album, Frustration Plantation, gives you a pretty good idea of what their all about. We assume she’s running her cello through some kind of guitar pedal to get that effect, but however she’s doing it, it totally makes us want to rock out–in a top-hatted, Victorian sort of way. Maybe snort a line of snuff off a chorus girl’s bloomers?