How Leslie Hall managed to transform what at once seemed like 15 short minutes of fame into a full-time career is somewhat of a mystery. Back in the infant days of social media (a.k.a. 2004), Hall was known as the Gem Sweater Girl, and shared company with other internet memes including the Numa Numa guy and that guy who was obsessed with Tron.
How Leslie Hall managed to become an extremely popular satirical rap star is no mystery at all, thanks to her clever lyrics about partying, killing zombies and tornadoes of love, and her strict adherence to the character she has created. Aftermath has seen Hall's band, Leslie and the Lys, play three times in Houston, and each time the crowd has been huge. And mesmerized.
Hall graduated in 2006 with a performance art degree from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and one wonders what she might be like when she's not on stage. Because when she is on stage she's fiercely dedicated to the character of the oddly glamourous Midwest Diva -- oversized glasses, blue eyeshadow, giant hair -- an effect that makes her look 40 instead of her actual 29. At Walter's Friday night, half the audience was clad in their own gold pants and gem sweaters, including a dedicated group Aftermath has seen at The Lys' previous shows.
The crowd was sparse for openers Christopher the Conquered, from Ames, Iowa, like Hall, and vaguely band-geeky, also like Hall. Aftermath wasn't sure how to feel about the band. Chris Ford, singer/songwriter, played piano with his feet and writhed around on the floor of Walter's while his bandmates danced and played on stage, including a three-piece horn section with a suspendered, bearded hippie who tossed himself around willy-nilly.
Their music was good - reminiscent of musical theater with some political lyrics criticizing, for example, the color-coded terrorism warning system - but when Ford emerged from Walters' back room in a full-length robe to writhe around yet again on the venue's floor, Aftermath got the sense that the band was just being weird for weird's sake.
Which, you know, they were opening for Leslie and the Lys, so some degree of goofy theatrics is expected. Which brings up a question Aftermath can't answer -- why do we find Hall so endearing when Christopher the Conquered or Har Mar Superstar kind of annoy us.
When The Lys take the stage there is often so much going on one isn't sure what to watch. The projection screen overhead showing old VHS exercise tapes? Hall's back-up singer/dancers, clad in leopard outfits? The audience? You're almost afraid to take your eyes off Hall lest you miss something hilarious. Hall refers to her stage show as "A little slice of Vegas at Midwestern prices."
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The Lys don't have much material, which means they can play most of it on tour. For about half the songs, the group was joined by a fourth member, an in-the-flesh drummer who hammered out effortless dance beats to compete with the prerecorded music usually backing the girls. Towards the end of their show, Chris Ford joined Hall on stage for a duet of "Midwest Diva," closed out by the horns from The Conquered dressed as the Beanie Baby Marching Band. After that, Aftermath decided Christopher the Conquered couldn't be too bad.
It's easy to determine who Hall's influences are. In one song she shouts out Beyoncé and Britney, and Friday night she took the stage body-rolling to Shakira's "She-Wolf." You might get the feeling that the influence is ironic, but at the end of her show, when "Toxic" was blaring over the speakers at Walter's, Hall took the stage again not for an encore of her own music, but to dance with her ardent fans in the crowd.