Two small signs on the filigree-ensconced keyboard stand read "BEWARE" and "WHORES." Whether an admonition or a threat remained alluring ambiguous through the Victoriandustrial set presented by Emilie Autumn and her Bloody Crumpets.
Like the joy division for Baron Munchausen's cast and crew, five corset-adorned harlequin harlots traipsed across the Meridian stage, bedraggled as the entertainment for Deadwood in James West's clockwork pocket of the Multiverse, but only a little worse for wear.
Initially, the stage act sans a band of any sort seemed more than a little contrived, but as the performers gained their bearings and the audience simmered down, the spectacle unfolded into a well-rehearsed sideshow promoted to main attraction through the obvious assets on stage.
Stiff for the first couple of numbers, the show took off when Autumn produced her violin for the third number, "Liar," and showed no signs of slowing down even with numerous pauses for theatrics such as Naughty Veronica's bawdy baiting of the crowd and Blessed Contessa's pleas to stop the madness occurring around her.
But no one wanted the asylum to close.
Almost entirely pre-recorded, the music delved into the realm of Nine Inch Nails, MOEV and Marilyn Manson but the copious use of harpsichord keyboarding kept the mood firmly in a Blade Runner marionette shop of the Victorian era. In a moment of candor, Autumn admitted that she hasn't been to Texas since an aborted attempt at music camp, which she skipped out on to attend a cake-decorating class. "Cake decorating is the new biting the heads off chickens," she announced to an audience that had already been showered by pastries and other baked confections, put aside by an unseen Mad Hatter for just such an occasion.
Stage make-outs between scantily-clad women definitely helped the maintain the earthy atmosphere obviously aimed for - so much so that even a sing-along to the theme of Sponge Bob Square Pants led by li'l Captain Maggot couldn't break the time warp spell.
The performers did manage to squeeze in "The Art of Suicide," "I Want my Innocence Back," "God Help Me" and "Misery Loves Company" between antics. But the real show was Autumn herself. Her vocal acrobatics ranged from the soaring aria quality of Kate Bush to a Siouxsie alto, occasionally resting briefly in a successful attempt at a Black Metal growl.
In one of her final solo moments on stage, she pulled out her violin and, after a moment of tuning - which she proclaimed the audience deserved - she tore into a rendition of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," an instrumental cover in name only.
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It was at this moment the veil parted and it became clear that, had Charlie Daniels challenged this devil to a fiddle-off, Daniels would have lost not through lingerie-induced distraction but to sheer talent.
Though there was an encore of "Thank God I'm Pretty," the true high note - and the one Emilie Autumn and the Bloody Crumpets should have ended on - was the last song of the set, a fairly true to the original rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody," made complete with beautiful, heartfelt harmonies and Autumn giving Brian May's guitar leads a run for their money with her violin.
Real life or fantasy?
Does it matter?