Calgary concert

Critical Perspective on The Tiger Lillies' Seven Deadly Sins concert in Calgary by Michael Thomas Taylor

Critical Perspective on The Tiger Lillies' Seven Deadly Sins concert by Michael Thomas Taylor

When Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill wrote the ballet The Seven Deadly Sins in 1933, politics had forced them both into exile in Paris. Necessity prodded them to renew a two-year partnership that had begun in 1928 with the Threepenny Opera, a work that premiered in Berlin with characters straight from the gutter of London, in the city where the raucously burlesque form of musical theatre called Cabaret was born. But from its beginnings to Brecht and Weill, Cabaret looked beyond the demimonde and petty criminals of industrialized Europe to the New World. One of the earliest stars at the Folies Berg?res in the 1890s was the innovative American dancer and choreographer Loie Fuller, and during the 1920s Josephine Baker had burst onstage in the exotic, highly sexualized Revue n?gre. It was to this tradition, to the emerging idiom of jazz and to other popular musical styles that Weill, classically trained and well-versed in avant-garde musical developments, turned in his collaborations with Brecht. In the Seven Deadly Sins, the duo that had catapulted Cabaret onto the grand stages of Europe projected theses quintessentially Catholic vices across new-world cities from New Orleans to San Francisco. And their second operatic collaboration Mahagonny, less well known today than ballads from Threepenny Opera like ?Mack the Knife?, tells the rise and fall of a Western boomtown at the height of a gold rush. In the operatic New World of Brecht and Weill, politics is little more than the nefarious scrambling of small-minded men, balanced perhaps only by the ruined hopes of their most captive commodities, their women.

Thursday night, this Western boomtown heard the newest incarnation of the Seven Deadly Sins, the London trio The Tiger Lillies, whose theatrics and musical style traces its roots to Brecht and Weill. You can read reviews of the band and, for those who missed the Grand Ideas discussion Friday evening, watch several interviews with Martyn Jacques on the Tiger Lillies webite (; you will see quickly enough why reviewers consistently twist adjectives such as abject, anarchistic, lurid, and sordid into the highest forms of praise. We saw them at Theatre Junction at their most elemental, without any elaborate props or set, the dramaturgy of their antics concentrated in the impact and musical virtuosity of their three characters: the bonhomie-bashing and wry slapstick of the drummer Adrian Huge; the understated, experimental brilliance of Adrian Stout (playing the bass, a saw, and the theremin); and the singular presence of Martyn Jacques. Graphically shocking, ugly and grotesque, at times lyrical: the band revels in all these registers. (The audience was alternately electrified, stunned and bowled-over with belly laughs.) What The Tiger Lillies bring to the Wild West is what Brecht and Weill originally seized as the theatrical potential of Cabaret: a stage on the far side of society in which the obscenities and distortions of human nature shout out loudly (but not crudely) like a circus barker and the crowd laughs along, entertained and fascinated and repulsed too. Stripped of the overt didactic and political aims so dear to Brecht (Weill famously explained the end of their partnership by saying that he could not set the communist party manifesto to music), The Tiger Lillies demonstrate these most vulgar qualities to be as utterly individual as the band itself in today?s musical landscape.