Aftermath: Peaches, Stripping the Onion (and Herself) at House of Blues
It's been a long time since Aftermath has been to the kind of high-energy, high-theatrics rock and roll show that makes us totally forget ourselves, even if just for an hour. Monday night at House of Blues, Peaches gave us exactly that kind of show, a relentless assault on good taste, fashion, preconceived notions and musical genres. We thought we had Peaches pegged. Shock-rocker. Gender-bender. We were hoping she'd come through and meet our expectations without being too corny or pedantic. We didn't expect a kind of show on the level of a low-scale Cirque du Soleil. Needless to say, she totally blew us away. It's a shame MEN couldn't meet those expectations. Peaches' opening band features the glass-voiced Le Tigre alumna JD Samson on vocals and synth with Ginger Brooks Takahashi and Michael O'Neill on guitars. Their sound is techno-pop, and the boyish Samson's voice is the perfect compliment to the heavily electronic music behind her. At times, like with the song "Simultaneously," MEN seemed to channel post-punk bands like The Cure and Siouxsie & the Banshees. At other times, though, they sounded like every generic night at a Montrose disco. At one point, O'Neill even put down his guitar to play a drill whistle.
MEN's music is message-heavy, and that's the problem. Samson is a well-known gay rights activist, but she seems to forget that pop music is meant to be fun as well as subversive. She introduced one song as being about all the rivers of Pangea. During "Credit Card Babies," she announced, "Who wants to have gay babies? This song is about raising gay babies!" Behind her, two dancers writhed around like something from a demented Busby Berkeley film, holding two giant cardboard hands making the "three fingers deep" motion. In retrospect, these props looked decidedly low-rent, and you'd think a self-proclaimed art collective could come up with something a bit more creative. The music was good, honestly, it's just that when half the crowd is already sold on your message, how controversial are you being? We guess playing a place like House of Blues is subversive in itself, but then again, as soon as MEN left the stage the HOB advertising screen dropped.
And then there was Peaches. Aftermath was completely unprepared. We knew she'd be lewd, we're familiar with her body of work, but we had no idea the kind of all-encompassing stage show she'd put on. Other people in the crowd did, though. Several of them were still in their Halloween costumes, which gave everything a surreal feel when Peaches' band took the stage - all of them covered by long, black Godiva wigs. And then she appeared, wearing what can only be described as an oversized, hairy, hump-backed burka. She started with "Mud," off this summer's album I Feel Cream, which marked a departure from her rap-centric and rock-ish early work. The album is also less about pure dirty sex and more about a variety of topics. "Mud," for example, is about gossip and reputation. The fact that she opened with one of her newest songs set the stage for the rest of the show - she ended up playing almost everything off the new album. Seeing Peaches live is like seeing the layers stripped off an onion. And not just literally. She shed the hairy burka for a puffy-sleeved bolero jacket and launched right into "Talk to Me", battling it out on stage with two underwear-clad Troll dolls, then sang "Billionaire."
For "Take You On," she climbed right onto the shoulders of the crowd, pointing to one audience member: "That's right, Halloween is never over!" Aftermath remembers once reading an interview with Courtney Love where the Hole front-woman explained that she stopped crowd-surfing at shows because she was constantly being fondled by dudes in the audience. We wondered if the hyper-sexual Peaches gets the same thing, but we doubt it. People were scrambling to touch her as she floated above them, but in a reverent way. Once back on stage, she shouted to the back of the crowd, "Don't be afraid! Come forward!" As the show moved from electronic to rap to the glam-metal of her previous albums, more and more parts of the costume came off. One of her favorite performance tricks seems to be on-stage battles, usually with her backing band, the Berlin-based Sweet Machine. For "Shake Yer Dix" she and keyboardist Saskia Hahn had a simulated on-stage wank-off. During "Tombstone, Baby" Hahn and Conner Rapp played matching neon-lit key-tars.
Eventually she was down to just a glittery leotard, waving a fluorescent light like a light-saber, stroking it at times to produce a theramin-like effect. Then she stripped down to a flesh-colored body suit for "Lose You," with nothing but a flashing LED light coming from her crotch. "I know you think of me as dirty, hairy. But I can be sentimental too," she said. The layers were off. From there, the show built back up into the glam-metal, heavy-rap and in-your-face lyrics she's always been known for. But for a moment, the crowd got the see the soft side of her. Before Peaches became the gender-fucking electronica rapper she is now, she was a drama teacher at an elementary school. Can you imagine having this woman as a teacher? The sense of creativity and hopefulness she instilled in us last night was enough to make us feel like kids again, enough to make us feel like we're capable of anything.