Cult musical trio The Tiger Lillies is often described as cabaret, but they are hardly piano bar stuff. Lead man Martyn Jacques pounding the ivories with a large black dildo while lustfully singing about cocks and tits is more piano bang than bar. The Tiger Lillies aren’t into acceptable – the ruder, the more deviant the better, and all mixed into a musical style that is hard to categorize. Part jazz, part oompah-pah Polka and sometimes haunting falsetto, with dead pan theatrics along the way, the material is undeniably dark and grotesque, populated by freak show characters and misbehaving maniacs. While The Tiger Lillies certainly aren’t for everyone, they have no shortage of fans. They tour and perform around the globe extensively and frequently play down under.
Over their abundant career Jacques, Adrian Stout and Adrian Huge have embraced everything from disabled prostitutes and masturbation to pill-popping suicides and lobotomies. Their material is sacrilegious, sadistic, and salacious. This 20 year anniversary show focuses on material from their album Shockheaded Peter, a collection of tales about misbehaving, indulgent children who meet bleak and bloody ends (Cruel Frederick, The dreadful story about Harriet and the matches) and selections from The Gorey End, songs inspired by unpublished stories of writer/ illustrator Edward Gorey. There are plenty of other offerings in the mix and the band even took many requests in an extended encore after the generous two hour show on Wednesday night.
Jacques, in bowler hat and face painted like disturbed clown (he won’t be getting any children’s party gigs with that get-up!) has the piano, accordion and vocals covered while Adrian Huge plays a miniature drum set, complete with baby dolls that double as drumsticks (enthusiastically utilized for Kick a Baby). Adrian Stout covers the contra bass, musical saw and Theremin. Not a typical collection of instruments, but one that really works here. The wide musical samplings make for a dynamic and textured repertoire and Jacques’ vocal range sustains and varies the material, even though the overall tone is heavy. From ballad to nursery rhyme lilting to full throttle screaming, he does it all.
It’s a tight act and a tight show and the material, like it or loath it, is well-inhabited and presented with a punchy confidence that only comes with years of familiarity. Not being a Tiger Lillies groupie myself (I’m more an interested onlooker who has seen the group once before), I found I had my fill of the debauchery before show’s end, but clearly I was in the minority, as most of the audience, given the option, would have happily stayed to hear the band’s entire extensive back catalogue. Jacques, Stout and Huge know how to both entertain and provoke, which is probably why they have such a wide and global fan base, but still manage to stay under the mainstream radar.
the Arts Centre presents
The Songs of Shockheaded Peter and other Gory Verses
The Tiger Lillies
Venue: Playhouse | the Arts Centre, Melbourne
Dates: 29 - 30 Jul 2009
Tickets: $35 - $39
Bookings: 1300 182 183