24 June 2017

Guest review: The Very Worst of The Tiger Lillies

The Very Worst of The Tiger Lillies
Memo Music Hall
18 June 2017
one night stand

Guest reviewer: Jack Beeby 

SM: I had a holiday (Japan is simply the best and I discovered Takarazuka Revue, who have ruined music theatre for me as much as Tokyo trains have ruined public transport), and Jack Beeby saw The Tiger Lillies while they were in town for one night. I remember how much I loved them the first time I saw them (and still do) and was a teeny bit jealous.

The Tiger Lillies

JB: The Tiger Lillies, international peddlers of peril, returned to Australia for the briefest of tours, including a one-night stop at St Kilda’s Memo Music Hall, to showcase the most sordid morsels of their 28-year canon in The Very Worst of The Tigerlillies.

For those who are yet to be indoctrinated into the band’s modest yet impassioned throng of followers, The Tigerlillies (in their current incarnation) are Adrian Stout, Jonas Golland and Martyn Jacques. Together they wrangle an impressive array of instruments, including a double bass, saw, guitar, theremin (Stout), customised drum kit (Golland), home-made electric ukulele, piano, and a sparkly green piano accordion (Jacques). Fuelled by Balkan-inspired time signatures and fiercely shrill vocals, these musical miscreants dispense a unique brand of grotesque punk cabaret, which has earned them a global cult following.

Through their songs, The Tiger Lillies almost exclusively conjure stories of human suffering and vice, often laced with macabre cautionary morals and told with visceral imagery that is most definitely not for the weak of stomach. Although the sadistic content and unflinchingly vivid depiction of these tales will certainly prove to be confronting for some, the group’s thoughtful composition, musical skill and theatrical delivery imbues each piece with an artistry that is wholly captivating.

The first act of The Very Worst solidly situates itself in the bygone world of ill-fated European carnivals, of ethically-barren sailors and transients, opium dens and brothels. Within this landscape, the group spin tales of desperation and devilry, of victims of extreme abuse and the perpetrators of horrific crimes. The content of this first act does not vary an awful lot. The pervasive energy of the set is slow and subdued and, while each story is its own work of narrative art, words like ‘corpse’, ‘whore’, ‘pimp’, ‘beat’ and ‘drugs’ are recycled from song to song with an almost tiresome regularity. With so much content to draw on from their 28-year catalogue, I found the lack of texture in this first set a little disappointing.

When the band return for the second act, we are treated to a selection of their more high-energy morality fables about religion, mortality and the bleak disaster of the human experience – songs that showcase the aggressive nihilistic passion and fierce musical punch for which they are so beloved and notorious.

Together, the three band members are a gaunt and gruesome visual spectacle. Their uniform of white grease paint and conventionally gentlemanly attire casts them as a chorus of grotesque phantoms, who find playful nuance in their strong individual characterisation – Stout is seedy and skeletal as he lurches over his upright bass; Golland is endearingly mournful as the group’s pallid percussionist; and Jacques is some kind of demonic clown, unleashing a howling falsetto that somehow manages to take over his entire elastic face.

While overall the energy of this performance seems a little more subdued than those of bygone decades, The Tiger Lillies’ deft musical skill and masterful talent for rich and evocative storytelling remains one of contemporary cabaret’s most wicked delights.

PS from SM: I still want "Getting Old" played at my funeral.

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