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THE TIGER LILLIES

08 December 2007

Last week I went to a concert -which is by all means a rare thing for me- by the Tiger Lillies. Now I haven't known that band for a particularly long time; it was recommended to me by a friend (with whom I went to the concert) and I immediately liked them very much. The Tiger Lillies are quite something else. They're a group of three musicians fronted by one Martyn Jacques; who wears a gypsy costume on stage and clown's make up. His bowler hat tops it off, completing the image of a twisted vaudevillian performer. Instruments of choice are the accordion, piano, simple drums, a bass and banjo. And of course the singing saw. The band has been around for some time and has made easily over a dozen albums. The thing you have to keep in mind is that when you listen to their music on a CD, it ranges from nice to good. When performed live, however, everything suddenly shoots up straight to excellent. Their showmanship makes everything dazzle and it seems like they put all their efforts there.

What I wasn't expecting during the concert was exactly how funny it would be. Tiger Lillies songs are often absurd, provocative, shocking and feature no shortage of cruelty and sexual deviancy. Bursting on the stage, however, it's often hilarious. There's something supremely funny about seeing a stubby gypsy clown testify that he is, in fact, the most evil man alive, pulling mad faces with it and methodically giving every sector of the audience the middle finger in insulted defiance. The rest of the show seems to be an attempt to back up this claim, with songs revelling in kicking babies -or indeed old ladies- from the stairs, expressing the desire to have sex with flies or a brilliant bit in which the confession is made that Jesus' crown of thorns was his idea, in a song that is aptly named 'Banging in the nails'. You think you've seen it all, but then there is the oddly compelling climax of seeing Jacques on stage pretending to orgasm with a hamster up his bum.

Mind you that this all occurs in the innards of a very luxury theatre. It is exactly the little touch that propels the delicious irony of it all. The group itself thrives on the decadent atmosphere of lustre lost and the decay of aristocracy. Bereft of this you might as well be listening to the Party Animals or any other joke band, but there is great sophistication in the Tiger Lillies exactly because they take such meticulous care in constructing an image of Brechtian mystique. What surprised me was how the audience loved it. We had the feeling that the majority of the crowd didn't really know the Tiger Lillies yet and were theatre enthusiasts or regulars, taking a gamble. Especially after some hilariously despicable songs of blasphemy I'd have expected people to walk out, but few did. The majority loved it to bits, which made for a very good vibe in the hall.

Nevertheless, it's quite obvious that the group is going to remain an underground act for some time. What they do is simply too uncompromisingly weird to be consumed by the general public. As such, they are forever confined to small, intimate theatres, entertaining small groups of mesmerized onlookers and fans and retaining the relative obscurity of being an acquired taste. To me, that seems the best thing in the world. I can't wait to go again.

Me and my friend went there with the decided agenda of seeing them perform the brilliant Bully Boys, a song from the 'Shockheaded Peter' CD in which they adapted old German cautionary children's tales which were often wicked and cruel. When the group asked for requests, we both shouted out and it was heard. Seeing it brought to us live was really great and felt special. The rest of the set was awesome as well, with a nice mix of songs I didn't and did know, hearing all the classics I wanted to hear and also bringing fresh new objects of lewdness. What more can you ask of an evening?

Roderick.