Friday, September 12th, 10:30 pm at Leftbank.
As the story goes, Kiki And Herb's pianist Kenny Mellman found his new muse (in singer Bridget Everett) at a New York karaoke bar, where she undoubtedly belted out top 40 hits in the same manner as she does tonight—with fearsome energy levels, violent spasms of theatrical joy and grief, and a twisted take on Broadway pizazz. Together Mellman and Everett—along with Neal Medlyn, a guy primarily known for performing a minimalist take on Beyonce's entire show from start to finish—have created Our Hit Parade's top 40 talent show. Inspired by a 1950s TV ham-off, Our Hit Parade had its inception earlier this year at Joe's Pub and welcomed New York performance artists and, well...anyone, to jump onstage and release their inner Gwen Stefani before a crowd.
Unfortunately, Portland's attempt at glitzy celeb-u-tainment falls a little flat. While the intention, to re-create this week's Billboard top 10 hits as each actor sees fit, is carried out across the board, some artists are more able to invoke the pop spirit than others. The evening's most stellar performances all feature the Mellman/Everett/Medlyn crew, while some of the local artists are situated somewhere between awkward and far too serious, and some usually great TBA out-of-towners kill the buzz by forgoing pop fun and segueing into dry monologues about how manufactured and lowbrow the chosen songs are. Um, duh! That's why we love pop music.
Rather than look down upon pop stars and their fans, great pop-inspired performance art should incorporate the strange and wonderful in pop culture—like celebs in minidresses going commando onstage, and tearful over-emoting that doesn't match the words being sung. Glitter coming out of balloons, crazy makeup, dance moves that make you wonder if a psychiatrist is needed...and did we mention a lack of underwear? That's entertainment!
It's the small details that entrance us even as we try to resist pop music's addictive junk food sickness. When the pop ingredients are mixed right, even a decidedly non-Britney like Neal Medlyn can make us want to give him more, and more, and more. After all, pop music isn't really about music at all. For performance art to channel pop, it can choose to do away with the musical element altogether: it can walk in the flurry of paparazzi flashes, read US Weekly
articles about itself, stand erect beneath a never-ending cloud of glitter, and above all, indulge in what Fischerspooner's Casey Spooner so brilliantly termed "hypermediocrity."
Photos and brief descriptions of each show-stopping number below. Some are very much unsafe for a civilized workplace.
: Opening the show as a trio in animal masks, with Medlyn sans socks and Everett possibly sans panties (though we couldn't get a good look without being creepy), the hosts burst into a crazed medly of the past decade's top hits. Like an American Idol version of Fiddler On The Roof
, somehow the three New Yorkers manage to squeeze psychotic mania out of everything from TLC to Madonna, with Mellman barking in his usual off-kilter background style.
: A crew of gay art school kids with gold outfits, blinged eyebrows and "heart." Their synchronized dance moves to T-Pain's Can't Believe It
were deepened by the presence of a disaffected, silent outsider in red who watched as if overfed on pop and unable to turn off the channel. In a sassy twist, one of the boys raps Lil' Wayne's sexy come-on to another guy. When in doubt, gay humping always perks up the audience!
PICA's Jamie Lee Christiana
takes up a tambourine and cowgirl-cum-Portland clothes and proceeds to two-step around the stage, making my native Texan girlfriend "uncomfortable."
Shortly after Everett and Mellman's rendition of 1993 hit What's Up
(which Mellman declares "responsible for Lesbian Bed Death"), artist Cayenne Pepper
takes the M.I.A. hit Paper Planes
to new levels of weirdness. Perfectly weaving together elements of pop stage life, Pepper pops balloons to the beat until the final balloon sends glitter flying everywhere. Out with a bang.
The crowd eats it up:
"How I Paid For College" author Marc Acito
starts out with a hauntingly funereal, operatically sung interpretation of Rihanna's Disturbia
. It's beautiful and theatric, but then he kills it by overanalyzing what he calls "suicidal" lyrics and suggesting that middle Americans are too dumb to understand what they're listening to while somehow managing to tie the song's popularity into the possible election of Gov. Sarah Palin. He manages to bring back the fun, though, with his own ridiculous version of the song, called Superbia
, and the lyric "It's puppies and kittens, it's sharing a joint with your grandma, I feel like a winner!"
: Oh, Neal. When you enter a stage wearing nothing but a child's Hannah Montana nightie and those red-framed Revenge Of The Nerds
glasses, you have us instantly awed by your audacity. Then, we're charmed by your realistic enthusiasm and wowed by your ability to actually sing Miley Cyrus' Wake Up America
on key. Of course, performance art just isn't that simple—you have to go and rip off your clothes and reveal a thong manty built out of Sweet-tarts candies. And then, you have to rip it off and send it flying into the audience along with a thousand little sugary discs. Well, it was a moment I couldn't resist. Yes, I did eat the candy right off the floor. And yes, it did taste very "full frontal." The sway Medlyn holds over his audience should never, ever be underestimated.
: Without attempting to tackle the vocoder stylings of upstart Katy Perry's I Kissed A Girl
, Daisey instead goes for a ramble about how hot it is when two chicks make out, exacting waves of annoyed groans from the heavily lesbian crowd (it is Portland, after all.) Mid-monologue, Daisey lets us know how much he appreciates the fact that lesbian kissing is "not threatening at all" (not like the fearsome nightmare that is man-on-man action) and even goes so far as to hope aloud that two women making out is the "last thing I see before I die." Sadly for him, were Daisey to stumble upon lesbian reality it would probably be a lot more like the gun-toting rage of Valerie Solanis than Katy Perry's feather-flinging pillow femme fantasy.
many faces of pop sincerity:
Sarah Dougher and friends
take Coldplay to the Renaissance fair with a fog machine and Burger King on the mic:
Medlyn, Everett, and Mellman
bring the show to a close with an USA Olympic-style tribute to This Is Me
, a manufactured triumph from the Camp Rock movie soundtrack. Ugh. Thankfully, there's nudity and matching costumes. Mellman tickles the ivories piano bar-style and momentarily interjects a serious note: "Artists doing pop culture is really interesting because we don't have a million dollars. Matthew Barney might, but the rest of us don't."
All photos by Mary Christmas.
For more information about the New York show, go to Our Hit Parade.
Read more diaries from the 2008 TBA Festival here.