Tiger Lillies Burning Bright
Earthy and ethereal, the Tiger Lillies' snarky songs and charmingly disheveled personalities span the gutter and the heavens. Article from fairfieldweekly.com
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.
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,
tigerlillies.com, 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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