'Fun, scintillating, impudent, achingly beautiful'.
"That's the Tiger Lillies in vaudeville mode: fun, scintillating, impudent and heartless." read more after the break
The Tiger Lillies – review
Soho theatre, London
Until 5 August
Thursday 21 July 2011 18.17 BST
You can see why Soho theatre chose the Tiger Lillies to inaugurate its new cabaret bar: the band have spent almost 20 years singing a threnody to the denizens of what is now deemed old Soho, the prostitutes, drug addicts and criminals who thronged its higgledy buildings and furtive alleys not so long ago. But it's an ironic choice, since the theatre itself is part of the gentrification of the area that has swept the unsavoury from view. If anything, the pristine gleam of the venue is at odds with the band: somewhere visibly broken, ingrained with the filth of ages, might suit their sordid songs better.
The set, which reaches back to the Tiger Lillies' earliest albums, seems to revel in depravity, yet there is nothing celebratory about frontman Martyn Jacques's depictions of whores who are ritually beaten by their pimps, schoolboys dying of drug overdoses, or transvestites being burned to death. In fact, there is no judgment at all. Jacques is a strikingly dispassionate observer, who speaks plainly and strips his narratives of extraneous detail. The word "bad" recurs so often it becomes almost meaningless, not least in Bad, in which Jacques embodies a paedophile insouciantly beckoning perverts to stick it in his drugged schoolgirls, indifferent to what we might think.
That's the Tiger Lillies in vaudeville mode: fun, scintillating, impudent and heartless. They're better when they're more subtle, when they make you feel for Jacques's characters even as his unearthly falsetto and the surprisingly elegant musicianship seem to remain aloof. Jacky, a muted Walker-does-Brel piano ballad, is achingly beautiful; so is Hailstones, in which a drug addict hallucinates the voice of God. If the band were always this precise, they would be devastating.