Addressing the ever-shrinking credibility of rock journalism since 2007. With a sasquatch.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Under Review: The Tiger Lillies

The Tiger LilliesDamn Vaudevillers. They've been at the grim war torn crossroads where art and music meet since Tristan Tzara in early 20th century Europe. Cabaret, itself, didn't ever do it for me until I discovered Dada*. Then, in the context of performing arts, I could sort of see the searing send up of popular culture that this kind of act was getting at. That, coupled with a few hot kittens in burlesque reviews with quality circus geekin' in sideshow routines we end up with my kind of show.

Until the doors got blown off (introduced to mainstream society by underground culture, theater and literature) by theories like the The Cut-up and Shock and Awe** it was some awfully staged Liza Minelli-eque shtick. I couldn't ever relate to the half-ass sham that I was accustomed to seeing.

Like any bad show starring a geriatric Stephen Tyler or god damned awful bad book by James Patterson is exactly like that. Bad musicians or writers attempt to trick audiences with pretentious fumbles and going through robotic motions that they stopped believing in years ago. Pop culture eats it up these hollow routines by trotting out the latest version of Madonna, minus any edge or shred of a message. Yet others, who do not fit into anti-septicly scrubbed genre, succeed in getting a point across by going further into the metaphorical mountains of literature and music.

Hidden among the overgrown hedge rows of contemporary culture, there are groups like the U.K.'s Tiger Lillies that bring the best of the best underground influences together. Since 1989, they've made an astounding 20 albums - creating the sickest, most forlorn and sometimes celebratory songbook. Think Happiness in Slavery composed for the accordion and you're half-way home.

Compelling frontman, Martyn Jacques, claims he's a classically trained opera singer. The other parts of the trio are amazing jazz/ragtime musicians. They all claim booze, Brecht, and crucifixion. Their songs are filled with well-meaning prostitutes murdered in coal dust alleys in Victorian England, nods to Lovecraft & Derleth, lecherous catholic priests dying of VD in gigolos arms, filthy shoeless children clubbing the homeless to death. These songs are savage fairy tales.

In a similar vein, another impressive art rock caberet band The Hellblinki Sextet are a group of musicians from North Carolina. I caught them as a trio at the Mockbee in Cincinnati. Their booming drums and vocals (courtesy of a young lad named Andrew) and alternately sweet and melodic treatment of Bella Ciao reminds me of the anxiety among artists prior to WWI*** in France and Germany. A sense that the blinded Cyclopses are running the real show into the ground - and that it's happening just outside the stage doors. This kind of music has always been humming in the background for any kind of meaningful resistance.

When the world is at war, artists and musicians play a key part in understanding the battlefields in the hearts and minds of the participants. In this aspect, Art is a reflection of the rage of the world that produces it. Music, even by addressing War in counterpoint, encompasses turmoil, strife and death. There is profound meaning to this struggle that the good artists remind us of through their work.

References: Notes: * = "Dada is without pretension, as life should be." Tristan Tzara, Dadaist Manifesto 1918. Please see the original text. ** = Shock and Awe is chiefly defined as a military term to stun one's opponent into submission using "overwhelming power". Here, I use it to refer to the use of a extreme performance that attempts to "sensitize" an audience - stripping away any inherent desensitization. *** = German Expressionism (link is a lesson) and the work of Kathe Kollwitz is one way of perceiving the severe forces that tear at the world. Much of this work can be seen as a visual record of the days when Otto von Bismarck was forcibly displaced by the German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm in WWI and of the fledgling Weimar Republic being toppled by the power-hungry Nazis in WWII.

No comments: