Tuesday night is a pretty notorious hard sell. Hit the town on any given Tuesday night that doesn’t fall on a holiday and you’ll notice that almost nobody wants to spend their night anywhere that’s outside of bed. But on this particular Tuesday night, 170 Russell was filled to the gills and even with daylight savings making it feel like 4PM outside, the energy inside made it feel like a greasy 2AM on a peak Saturday night. The kind of night you wake up from with an arse branding and a brand-new wife. The very best kind.
If you’re one of those people that makes sure you show up just as the headliner takes the stage so you don’t have to ‘sit through’ the opening acts, boy did you ever miss out tonight. Betty Grumble was a god damn beast; her act is this grotesque clusterfuck of burlesque performance art and vulgar clowning that has to be witnessed to be understood. A creaky old jazz melody crackles over the din of the crowd as she crawls out on her knees from side of stage wearing nothing but a tasselled g-string and an old plastic bin over her entire top half (I say crawl; it was more of a self-propelled dragging). From there she performs her own perverted version of your classic 20’s burlesque routine while still remaining buried in the bin, starting with some tidy aerial legwork before slowly writhing her way to her feet, working the crowd up into a lather for the big reveal – the bin is violently shed to reveal Betty in all her glory, sporting nothing but pasties and a g-string and make up a foot thick and the kind of gigantic poodle mane that’d make Dee Snider weep with pride. What a heart-throb.
I don’t wanna give away her act but I can give you two red-hot tips: you haven’t lived until you’ve seen what Betty can do with a sparkler, and if she throws a zip-loc bag at you it’s in your best interest to let that sucker fall to the ground – a lady at the front dove on it like the bride’s bouquet and judging by the way she disposed of it and continually smelled her hands afterward, it’s safe to assume it weren’t no flowers. At one point she had a bouncer hiding behind a speaker stack in hopes of avoiding being involved any further in the show, then not 5 minutes later I see the same bouncer peeking his head around the corner of his nook grinning like a maniac at the spectacle, then ducking his head back to try and find anybody he knew to make sure they were seeing what he was seeing. He needn’t have bothered; not one eye in the room wasn’t glued to that stage. If you see Betty Grumble is putting on a show near you, do yourself a favour and be there.
The room is suddenly shrouded in darkness and black light as Berlin-born Black Cracker staggers out repping a long, flowing skirt and a hoodie pulled right over his face. Chest-rattling sub bass crawls over the crowd as he barks his way to centre stage flanked by two massive video displays, the combination of his delivery and the awkward, clunky beat sounding something like a middle ground between Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Clipping. The atmosphere grows just a little too tense before dude peels back the hood, finally revealing his face to the spotlight, and in that moment he also chooses to reveal to us the voice of an angel. This man can sing.
Black Cracker feels like a musical experiment of sorts, taking you on a continuous journey from ugly, sub-heavy grime into incredibly elegant, soul-based hip-hop, all the way through to the new era of internet-based electronica genres like dark bass and glitchwave. He gave every bit of energy he had and was relentless in his efforts to win the crowd but for some reason, it just wasn’t coming off right. It wasn’t his fault, the man’s show was on point, he did his best to engage the crowd and get the energy moving in the room but for whatever reason, the vibe was just off. I think the problem for Black Cracker wasn’t his performance, but one of scheduling; simply put, you can’t follow something so intensely visceral and affronting as Betty Grumble with something so subdued and subliminal as Black Cracker. The energy flow just can’t work in that order, especially when sandwiched in between Grumble and the Queen of High Energy Viscera, our one and only Peaches. It’s a tiny shame, but with a performance this live, it’s just all the more incentive to make sure I catch a Black Cracker headlining set the next time I get a chance.
To attend a Peaches show is to subject yourself to a gigantic, intense, gloriously perverted subversive feminist mindfuck. Anybody in attendance tonight should have been well aware of this by now; Peaches has been at the forefront of challenging gender roles in music for almost two decades now, delivering raw and affronting performances that leave crotchety old critics and flippant festival crowds staggered in their wake. But tonight was different. Tonight was special. Instead of tearing the stage apart with nothing on but a mic and a set of combat boots like the days of yore, what she delivered tonight was one cohesive, intricately orchestrated performance from front-to-back, with each song being a complete performance piece in its own right. The show opens with two strange figures draped from head to toe in shaggy white hair silently swaggering and meandering across an empty pink stage like lumbering mythical beasts. They stand motionless at the front for just enough time to make it feel weird before they both suddenly hurry back to side-of-stage to usher in our Goddess Peaches, herself draped in matching shaggy brown hair but for her head, which is adorned with a foot high, realistic and incredibly detailed vagina bonnet.
She let the white-hairs guide her to her rightful podium like the royalty she is, taking the moment to let the crowd bask in all of her majesty while the white-hairs fall into formation back at front of stage. With the three of them now standing in a human hair triangle, the ever-immaculate vagina bonnet in full focus at the top, the beat drops and all three of them start rubbing themselves all over as sensually and vigorously as they can manage to roars of laughter and applause from the crowd. This was some next level Peaches. Lead single “V for Vaginoplasty” featured the aforementioned two performers in massive front-on vaginal face-masks pulling synchronised dance moves to the rhythm, Peaches adorned in a full-body gold latex vagina suit that opens up over the shoulders.
And in the rare moments where there was no concept to present (like in the classic banger “Operate”), she revelled in the chance instead to take a good, long crowd walk on the hands of her punters in her incredibly regal vaginal regalia. What a boss. My absolute show highlight was the new classic “Dick in the Air”, not only because the beat sounded relentless in that space but because for this particular track they inflated a huge backlit material penis directly over the crowd for Peaches to climb into and crowd walk from there. But that’s not all – she climbed out towards the end to work the crowd into chanting “Dicks” to the beat (who passes up that opportunity), before being joined by Australia’s own performance artist Captain Ruin, who proceeded to put two hooks through his scrotum, chain those hooks to a weight, and then lift the weight to full standing height before bouncing the weight to the rhythm of the beat, leaving the crowd mesmerised and chanting like mad. Beat that, Coldplay.
She finished the set with the iconic “Fuck the Pain Away” and said her goodbyes, before returning for a further two encores. The first was a hard-backed rendition of “Dumb Fuck” but the final encore was easily the most intriguing Peaches performance I’ve ever seen; the stage was almost pitch black but for 20 or so pin-point lights beaming through holes in the dancers’ bodysuits. Peaches stood at the back of stage in complete darkness with the two dancers slowly twisting into and holding strange and contorted poses while she performed a haunting rendition of the ethereal “Light in Places”, before quietly exiting again into the darkness. If you’re gonna spend a Tuesday night out on the town, there’s definitely no better way to spend it than with Peaches. In fact, if you can find a better way to spend your Tuesday night, I owe you a coke.
*Photos by Greg Holland – Full gallery HERE