The Tiger Lillies - Bloomsbury Theatre, London

...."There was this old granddad dude sat onstage in an old granddad armchair, wearing a fez cap and playing a miniature drum kit." A review of the band in London this November

The Tiger Lillies - Bloomsbury Theatre, London

Words : Gracelette

Photos: Heike Schneider-Matzigkeit


Holy shit. That was the most fucked up, debauched, amoral shit I?ve

ever seen. Jesus Christ, I?m glowing now, I feel so fucking alive. Fuck


There was this old granddad dude sat onstage in an old granddad

armchair, wearing a fez cap and playing a miniature drum kit. Then, on

the other side of the stage, there was a dude playing an elongated

double bass/cello THING. And in the middle was this dude wearing a

bowler hat with a white greasepaint face and the most beautiful

accordion I have ever seen. It was a decadent accordion, green like the

eyes of a Tamara de Lempicka heroine, with sparkly diamante bits

chucked in for good measure.

And, in a better falsetto than Klaus Nomi, the dude in the bowler hat

was singing about how he likes to choke little boys and girls and show

them his porn collection. He was singing about Auntie Mabel, who was a

whore with a plastic leg and a body part that rhymed with ?chick?. He

was singing heartbreaking end of the night, end of the party, smoke

rising lonely songs that only clowns are allowed to sing. He was

singing happy prancy little songs about Masturbating Jimmy and his pint

and a half of cum, strumming merrily on a ukulele the colour of dark

blue night before the dawn.

There was a jubilantly cheeky song about being the one who nailed

Christ to the cross. The chorus, which went ?bang the nails in! bang

the nails in!?, practically demanded audience participation. With

perfect dramatic timing, the drummer put a tambourine upon his head

while the singer went ?you see that crown of thorns upon his head? Well

THAT was MY idea!? and then back into the chorus, which culminated in

the drummer taking two pink and yellow plastic mallets to his drum kit,

bashing in the nails, or the mallets, till the kit was mashed into the


Midway through set, the granddad drummer in the fez cap overdosed on

ping pong balls, climbed on top of his armchair and did a drum solo by

spitting out the ping pong balls onto the miniature drum kit below.

But, in the end, he committed suicide by sawing through the leg of the

chair on which he was sitting.

?I?m terribly sorry but that?s the end of the show because our

drummer?s died. Unless there are any drummers in the audience? No?

Goodbye then.?

But then he was resurrected as a literary pig who read to all the other pigs in heaven so that was alright, then.

The Tiger Lillies take the musical arrangements and forbidden subtext

of Sixties radio sketch show, Round The Horne, and mesh them together

with everything that was dark and about to crash in Thirties Berlin.

Pervy old men, armed with ice cream and porn, rub lyrical shoulders

with tattooed ladies, ink hiding their bruises, being pimped at the

freak show. Vintage STDs like gonorrhoea star in their own songs. As

the Lillies sang about the grotesque corpulence of having to be alive,

I imagined old queens in tear-streaked makeup, the need for artificial

brightness at any cost before antibiotics and antiseptic did away with

smallpox and syphilis. I imagined the rapid withering decay of Klaus

Nomi and the need to shine extra bright when the night is so damn


The dude sang ?every ego will be crushed, every empire turned to dust?

while throwing Heil Hitler salutes and it just made you realise how

close in the past that shit really was. The last song was about

stabbing the disciples and pissing upon their graves. Stabbing John the

Baptist, then pissing upon his grave. Went up to heaven and stabbed St

Peter as he was forgiving his sins, then pissed upon his grave. And the

chorus was just ?piss piss piss piss, piss piss piss piss, pissed upon

his grave!? He kills God and pisses upon his grave and then he goes all

the way down to hell and kills Satan and pisses upon his grave. Fuck

me. That was the darkest shit I?ve ever seen in my life and his

contorted falsetto scream was something else.

This is grown-up music, absolutely grown-up music, and I felt so very

young, sitting at the top of the dress circle, kneeling on the floor

and peering through the railings the way I used to peer through the

banisters when I was small, trying to eavesdrop on the grown-ups below.

It reminded me also of sitting in the gods at the Royal Albert Hall

proms when I was at school, because that was the warmest, safest,

cheapest place for all my friends to congregate at the end of the day.

We turned the grand old theatre into our makeshift living room and

conducted sleepovers, giving each other makeovers and reading magazines

while all this crazy classical music played below.

One pathos-heavy song sounded like my mother singing ?Feed The Birds?

or ?White Cliffs Of Dover? in that ?ghost in the corridor? soprano

voice of hers, which I?ve not heard for years, till it brought tears to

my eyes.

In fact, as I peeped through the railings, holding onto them tight and

spying on all the big people, I regressed to a point of scatological

childhood where you?d ask if it was OK to eat your brother?s poo

because nobody had told you any better. A place where you knew, also,

that when your mum covered your ears, it was because there were adult,

forbidden things happening.

I felt like I was on the edge of two worlds where no morality had yet

been instilled and also where every morality had been instilled and

someone on the other side? someone was making jokes, the punchlines of

which I ?wasn?t old enough to know? and it felt good to feel so

innocent and so dirty all at once. It felt good to feel so free to be

absurd because these guys were so much further across the line.

I thought of composing little ditties about spending my last birthday

in a flat down Euston way, where a stripper cooked me breakfast and

tried to get me laid with Turkish porn and miniature vibrators. I

thought about the fucking craziness of where your life can lead when

you divulge yourself of ego and begin to see it as a huge joke with

punchlines to be made and cymbals to be crashed and accordions to be

stopped and started and drawn out into longer punchlines.

They sang a song about a yellow angel. Suddenly here were

life-threatening puddles of chilly, cholera-infested water. Here was

consumption and despoiled maidenhoods in the Folies-Berg?re. Here

onstage were three men conjuring the bright and gaudy colours you?d

have to make to make to keep yourself going when you?d been reduced to

a mad cow with no teeth sitting with your fanny in the dirty puddle,

laughing and flashing your bright green drawers. And coming out of a

past filled with influenza and polio and smallpox, here was a band who

cared enough to dress up and lie to you.

They even had an interval, wherein a dude stood at the front by the

stage with a tray of Loseley ice cream! I felt old and small and taken

out of myself with wonder. And if it had left me feeling like this was

something to be picked up and set aside at the end of the performance

then maybe I?d be writing it off as something that?s nice enough for a

weekend fling. But this went so much further. Fuck, this made me glad I

dressed ritually and for theatre in matching pearl bracelets, wine red

velvet dress with pearls and sequin flowers threading down one side,

big wine red leather boots and fishnet hold-ups. The sensation of my

fleshy thighs spilling over the tops of my hold-ups as I knelt, knees

slightly apart, at the top of the auditorium? That was as much as part

of the performance and my experience of it as the inflatable sheep or

the giant saw because the Tiger Lillies opened up countless spaces for

theatre and absurdity and punchlines and performance devoid of the

post-millennial ego in my own life.

And, when they finished singing about pissing all over the graves of

everything sacred and profane, they stepped off the front of the stage

and walked with their audience out into the foyer.

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 Posted on Thursday, December 23rd, by Lonnie the Pony