Tiger Lillies Burning Bright

Earthy and ethereal, the Tiger Lillies' snarky songs and charmingly disheveled personalities span the gutter and the heavens. Article from

Earthy and ethereal, the Tiger Lillies' snarky songs and charmingly disheveled personalities span the gutter and the heavens.

by  Christopher Arnott   - October 28, 2004

Why are you laughing?
Why so self-assured?
Tomorrow death and disease you'll endure
Why are you laughing to that happy music?
Only fools and idiots are optimistic.
?"Why Are You Laughing," from Punch and Judy by the Tiger Lillies

 When the Tiger Lillies last played Connecticut, it was an

inconspicuous fin-de-siecle affair in 1998 at the Temporary Autonomous

Zone, a now-defunct storefront theater and club space in New London. To

a squished-in crowd, the trio wailed and clattered with elegant

precision, clad in black bowler hats, overcoats, suspenders and other

downscale Edwardian fashion accoutrements. There was indoor

streetcorner flair to the band's ramshackle aesthetic, made especially

eerie by Martyn Jacques' patented falsetto vocals and the band's

patently offensive lyrics, such as "I'm crucifying Jesus! Banging in

the nails!" and "Drop a bomb on Slough" (yes, they were mocking that

depressed British city years before BBC's  The Office ). The

club's low-rent artsiness perfectly suited the Tiger Lillies' snarky

songs and charming disheveled personalities.

 Scaled down

to their exotic essence, the Tiger Lillies are: the not-especially-huge

Adrian Huge, deftly pummeling and tinkling a modified second-hand drum

kit; the not-too-stout Adrian Stout plucking a cheap double bass, and

the aforementioned head songwriter Martyn Jacques unfurling that

infernal falsetto while squeezing a Czech-made Delica 72 bass

accordion. In the last decade, they've released 15 CDs, sometimes

augmenting their spare ethereal sound with classical strings, guitars

and drunken choruses.

 In 1999, I saw the Tiger Lillies

performing in the award-winning London production of  Shockheaded

Peter , a grisly musical theater spectacle based on a misanthropically

moralistic German children's book from the late 1800s. This time they

were in an opulent theater, playing on a brightly lit stage, teetering

on the edge of a gigantic doll's house in which impolite little

children's hands were being lopped off, among other behavioral horrors.

This environment made sense, too. The show brought the Tiger Lillies'

excessive theatricality to the forefront, though they added something

that couldn't be manufactured to this lush, lascivious visual feast.

The band is comfortable in their outfits, and the music flows out of

them naturally. They don't come off as costumed kooks; however weird

they seem, this is what they do best.

 On Wednesday Nov.

3, the Tiger Lillies will be at Fairfield University's Quick Center, an

immaculately clean and modern venue at a school with a strong Christian

heritage. But the Tiger Lillies make sense in this environment as well.

They alarm and offend and excite, yes, but in a way which is not too

far from missionaries and tub-thumping preachers. They certainly

confess their sins freely.

 Go on their website,, click on the "band" section and instead of the

expected biography you'll get an animation of Martyn, Adrian and Adrian

naked, except for woolly hats and pants dropped around their ankles,

their private parts covered by hind ends of inflatable sheep. The text

above this erotic cabaret flashes "Lord, I am a sinner/ I had sex with

sheep/ And when I did have sex with them/ Insertion it was deep." But

seriously, their records commonly deal with issues of spirituality,

morality, mortality and the decay of modern society. They'll fit in

fine at the Quick, which in the past has brought a classically trained

singer doing a set of Kate Bush songs and, just last year, the stony

Germanic cabaret goddess Ute Lemper.

 Asked, in an e-mail

exchange last week while the band was touring Australia, whether they

preferred to be known as a band or a theater act, Jacques responds:

"We'd like to be known as a band. We like to perform in theater, but

it's hard to say, because sometimes playing in a rock club can also be


 Who does the band feel closest to, Bertolt Brecht

or Queen Victoria? "Brecht," Jacques insists. That dire social satirist

playwright's name--and that of his frequent collaborator, composer Kurt

Weill--comes up frequently in descriptions of the Tiger Lillies'

hard-to-pin-down sonic assault. Other shorthand references which fall

short: Tom Waits, Monty Python, The Pogues. Suffice to say that the

Tiger Lillies are earthy and ethereal at the same time, traveling from

the gutter to the heavens--or, as an early album title put it, 

From the Brothel to the Cemetery

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