In hindsight, I suppose the best way to persuade people to accompany me to the Tiger Lillies gig was probably not to tell them “This band is so incredibly weird that even I find it weird!” I’d been assuming people would jump at the opportunity to see something so bizarre, but instead they generally smiled politely and invented other plans. But not all was lost; after a brief argument with Ida about who would be weirder, this band or the singer from Uzbekistan performing earlier that night (Ida: But she’s from Uzbekistan, how more fringe can it get?), Ida relented and came along.
I might well be wrong about this, but I believe the first song of the gig was about going down on a diseased whore. This was just to ease us in gently. The band went on to regale us with songs fantasizing about crucifying Christ (Bang In The Nails), wanting a hamster up your rectum (Hamster), and sex with flies (Flies, natch). The lead singer does everything, by the way, in an operatic falsetto, because, well, because he can.
Towards the end of one of the songs, the drummer substituted his drumsticks for two huge inflated plastic mallets and started banging away at his drums with them. This got wilder and wilder until, bit by bit, the entire drum set was collapsing onto the floor under the fury of this onslaught. He then proceeded to play on this drum set, collapsed in disarray onto the floor, until the intermission many songs later.
During a song about suicide, the drummer climbed up onto his stool with a bottle of pills and tipped them all into his mouth. He then started spitting them out rhythmically onto his (reassembled) drum set, thus playing his drum part in the song.
From what I’ve said so far it would be fairly easy to dismiss this band as a one trick pony, but there was actually much more to the gig than its novelty/shock value. The jazz standard Autumn Leaves was delivered completely straight, and although it might be difficult to imagine how a man singing it in an operatic falsetto could still bring out all the longing and pathos of the song, this was certainly achieved.
The same could be said of their encore song, Alone With The Moon, which was, very simply, as lovely and evocative a ballad as I have ever heard anywhere else. Despite the debauched hijinks that took place earlier, I think this song will actually be my abiding memory of the gig – Martyn Jaques in his mime-style make-up, bowler hat, and shirt braces, under a cold smoky spotlight, singing a note so high and clean and true I could have lived in it forever.
I’ve seen a lot of gigs, but I can’t think of any other gig I’ve seen that delivered on so many levels – music, comedy, theatre, pure showmanship – and where the performers were so inimitably unique. Whoever in the Esplanade decided to risk bringing the Tiger Lillies to staid old Singapore, I salute you and thank you from the bottom of my deviant heart.