Tiger Lillies @ Highline Ballroom 11.10.08 By Frank Deserto
Those who are unfamiliar with The Tiger Lillies, make it a priority to see them next time in town.
Those who are unfamiliar with The Tiger Lillies, make it a priority to see them next time in town. This shouldn't be too difficult, as they seem to make a yearly stop in New York City every late fall/early winter. Last night at the Highline Ballroom (aka, the sit and serve) was my third time seeing the band, and arguably the best.
The Tiger Lillies are an extremely prolific UK act that mixes cabaret, morbid and sexual humor, Brechtian drama, and accordion and piano dirges together. Lead singer and mastermind Martyn Jacques often sings in a high soprano voice, invoking both Jacques Brel and Klaus Nomi, if you will, as done up in dramatic Vaudevillian face paint. Meanwhile a pair of Adrians back Jacques, Adrian Stout on contrabass, theremin (!), and saw and Adrian Huge on drums and percussion. The band grew to prominence providing the soundtrack to Shockheaded Peter, a junk opera that premiered in the UK a few years back. Since then, the band has won over a sizable cult following with both their dark humor and catchy, yet controversial singalongs.
After a rather decent opening act, New York roots performer Curtis Eller (who reminded me quite a bit of Jerry Lee Lewis on a banjo), The Tiger Lillies took to the stage, and without uttering a single word, launched into a rather raunchy number, 'Masturbating Jimmy.' Three guesses what that one's about. For the first half of the band's set, The Tiger Lillies performed rather sexually explicit material, cracking several audience members up as they clapped, and dare I say, sang along. Martyn Jacques would switch between his instruments, including a lute, accordion, and a grand piano, ushering in a different mood with each instrument, but keeping the fun intact.
After a brief intermission, The Tiger Lillies returned to the stage with a different plan of attack. After a mini-set featuring a close friend of the band (Justin Bond), performing a series of numbers from an upcoming and updated version of Cinderella, the band opened the floor to requests. The audience kept on shouting them, and the band kept on delivering, performing a handful of songs from Shockheaded Peter, alongside several other fan favorites. Though this grew annoying after a while, it was most impressive to watch the band handle just about every request tossed their way. With such an impressive repertoire at their disposal (The Tiger Lillies have released over 20 records thus far, with little signs of slowing); it must be incredibly difficult to keep each song rehearsed, both lyrically and musically. Astounding when you think about it, really. Not only can each member play several instruments, but they're able to perform most of their entire discography at the drop of their bowlers.
Just when the show was poised to end on a low, somber, yet no less-incredible note, the band came out for a brief encore, and ended the night with a high-energy number. Just when you thought they had gone slightly soft, Jacques howled "I'm gonna get you, motherfucker," in a high soprano voice, and the band played faster and faster. A hoot and a holler, a perfect dose of theatricality that delivered with finesse! Ladies and gentlemen, let me say this: if you have any love for theatrical, dark humor and a gypsy punk aesthetic, make this band a must-see and a must-hear! My sides are still hurting today!