Once you know about The Tiger Lillies, you either love them or hate them.
An extract from 'Dirty Red Kiss- a novel about dating, city life, and being in a band'
Once you know about The Tiger Lillies, you either love them or hate them.
There is no middle ground when it comes to a musical group that sings about luxury, poverty, sorrow, joy, birds, babies, bestiality, drunkenness, murder, suicide, Chicago, Mozart, the plague, the circus, the sea, the Church, well, you get the idea. The Tiger Lillies sing about everything.
I live in San Francisco, and first became aware of The Tiger Lillies in 2000. My best friend had an extra ticket to see them in their theatrical production ?Shockheaded Peter? which was being performed at the Curran Theatre. I was unable to go, so I suggested that my friend take my wife.
They saw the show, and even though my friend hated the band, my wife raved about them, saying that we would have to see them every time they returned.
The opportunity to do just that materialized early the next year, as they were scheduled for a show at Bimbos in North Beach. I still had not heard them, their CDs were not readily available at any of the then still existing music stores such as Tower Records, and so I was going simply on my wife?s glowing review.
When we arrived at Bimbos we found the place to be quite full. We checked our coats in the lobby and made our way back to the luscious red velvet bar that is just off to the left of the main seating area. I don?t remember what we ordered, but I do remember that the bartender standing in front of the big, beautiful mirror gave my wife plenty of extra attention, which was quite understandable, since she was outfitted in a lovely form fitting black leather corset.
We got our drinks, and moved over to the main area, and sat at a table in the rear, just in front of the busty mermaid. It had been awhile since I had been in Bimbos, and I was reacquainting myself with its nineteen thirties night club atmosphere.
We had arrived just before show time. The lights dimmed and The Tiger Lillies made their way onstage. I noted to myself that they were a small ensemble, comprised of gentlemen with smart suits and acoustical instruments: The drummer was a round man who wore glasses, a goatee, and a pork pie hat. He sat behind a child size drum kit. The man with the stand up bass was lanky, and the front man was wearing ghoulish make up and had an accordion strapped across his chest.
They began playing, and I was startled by the singer?s voice. It was falsetto, not quite the range of singing I was used to experiencing. However, after several songs it was obvious that the singer was quite talented, and was hitting notes not usually attempted by the average Rock/Country/Jazz/Folk/ singers, so to the relief of my wife, I settled in and took in the performance.
They sang about sex with flies, crucifying Jesus, and being alone with the moon. And, after the drummer destroyed his kit with a big rubber mallet, I was a convert.
When the show finished we waited with the crowd gathered in the lobby just in front of the coat check room to buy a CD, which the band members signed. They also gave my wife the extra attention her outfit warranted.
We were now able to enjoy The Tiger Lillies in the comfort of our own home and track their long, long, listing of live performance using their webpage. If you ever want to take a trip around the world, go to their site and click on the section showing past live performances. If James Brown was the hardest working man in show business, the Tiger Lillies are the hardest working whatever the hell they are, currently in show business. They easily perform upwards of several hundred shows a year.
My wife and I have seen The Tiger Lillies every subsequent San Francisco performance. They typically return in the fall just before Halloween, and in addition to Bimbos, they have played at The Great American Music Hall and The Swedish American Hall.
Their show at The Great American Music hall was very fun. We were lucky to see them on the main floor below the ornate, grand ballroom architecture, and while some of the folks sat upstairs at the tables, peering over the railing, smiling and nodding their approval, most of the audience was standing and stomping along to the songs on the hard wood dance floor. This was the most raucous of their shows we?ve experienced so far. It had a beer hall type of feel; all that was lacking were steins and lederhosen.
Just after we saw The Tiger Lillies last performance at Bimbos, my wife and I were in Paris, France. We were walking the Champs- Elysees and decided to check out Virgin Records, which had an odd internal structure. It felt like we were making your way around the inside of the pyramid that extends out of the Louvre. Anyway, we did not spend a lot of time there, but we were extremely pleased to find that they stocked several CDs by The Tiger Lillies, and we bought ?Two Penny Opera?, which contains the song whose line I borrowed as the title of this piece.
The Tiger Lillies most recent San Francisco show was interesting. My wife and I planned on taking the F line street car that runs along Market Street to The Swedish American Hall, only to have our attempt foiled by a traffic snarl due to the collision of an electric Muni bus and a car. We were forced to exit the trolley just outside Union Square, and tried to get a cab, which proved to be no easy task. We tried hailing one at several different street corners, only to have them zoom on past, until finally, by some good fortune, my wife was able to hail one midway up the block on the back side of Hallidie Plaza.
It was cold that evening, and as we stood in the short line outside the hall, next to the empty lot that I believe once held a gas station, I desperately wished I had worn a hat.
My wife and I stood close to try and maximize our body heat, and eventually a gentleman with a clipboard made his way along the short line, checking off people names. We were let in, and after getting our hand stamped, walked the steps up to the hall. We had been here before, but I did not really get a good look at the place the last time. This time I was able to take it in. It reminded me of a wooden Protestant church from the old country, which oddly enough, seemed to suit the band.
As we waited for the show, we heard the person sitting to my right say that he had flown to Seattle and had seen the band?s show the night before. We also over heard a woman behind us comment on the attire of the majority of the audience members.
?Must be because it is close to Halloween.? She concluded.
Actually, this was the way these people dressed everyday. Some just happened to be attired a little more elaborately because of the band and the show.
The Tiger Lillies were in good spirits and performed many new songs dealing with the seven deadly sins. I particularly liked the song dealing with lust. It was built upon a long, almost dissonant piano crescendo.
During their song that exalts the joy of loving a particular sheep named Wellington we were all rocked by an earthquake. I would estimate that it lasted for close to twenty seconds, which is a very long period of time to experience the shaking of an old building as you try to stay calm and grab a hold of the back of the chair next to you.
During the rumbling and swaying the band played on, not missing a note or skipping a beat.
I love The Tiger Lillies.