It was a night like any other in Kreuzberg: dark, smoky, falafel-filled. I made my way to that bleakly beautiful ufer where the Club Maria now makes its spacious home, to be entertained by three promising starlets of the Berlin musical brat pack: Angie Reed, Kevin Blechdom and Jamie Liddell.
After a free drink proffered by a swarthy charmer named Miguel, I found my place in the quickly-growing crowd before the stage. The lights dimmed, an invisible curtain lifted and the music started with a crackle. (or did I imagine that…?) A half-hackneyed, half-cockamamie showbiz intro blared, and out stumbled our errant entertainers, les enfants terribles of the city that never sleeps. Dressed in some vaguely coordinated fashion like two cartoon detectives (Kevin and Jamie) and their loyal secretary (Angie), the triad traipsed and frolicked around the stage, pretending to type in sync with the music on their cardboard and gaffer tape typewriters.
End intro. Inspector Gadget and Harriet the Detective exit stage left behind the cardboard screen (nearly knocking it over), and ba-dum-bum Angie is free to start her bump and jingle secretary number.
Angie – I will venture to drool one more time on her red stilettos to say – is a brilliant, natural, performer. So relaxed in her neurotic stage persona, so close to collapsing in laughter at her own bad jokes, it’s impossible not to go along with it. I was rather blasé about seeing her perform for the umpteenth time as Barbara Brockhaus, the saucy secretary, but I was pleasantly surprised that the shtick was still fresh. Unfortunately Angie’s age-old slide projector, which keeps the narrative going and ties the meaning of her songs together, went kaput about five minutes into her show. Visual aids out the window Angie, like a reliable kindergarten teacher, always gets out her (electric) guitar to keep the kids happy. Looking winsomely over-dressed, she sings in baby-voice about how she’s tired and she’s lonely and she’s never had a pony.
After performing her greatest hits – including the funky classic Jungle Jigolo duet with the invisible Gonzales living in her sampler – Angie took her pony on a detour through a mountain pass where the Donner Expedition was waiting to ambush her. At least that’s what it looked like to me.
A dapper dude with legs of spaghetti was lassoed out of the audience to play Angie’s beautiful but inbred-to-lobotomy fiancé. That would be newish-in-town prodigy and progeny of the Austro-Ottoman empire, Namosh. Barbara Brockhaus the secretary morphs into Wanduh the trailer trash. They do a slick duet after the fashion of Namosh’s tongue-contact-improv in the universal language of oohs and ahs to the backdrop of his 2D plate of electro-fried chicken. Talented dude, Namosh – watch out, or call in the detectives…
Cue: return Kevin and Jamie to the stage, as the in-bred parents of Wanduh. They screech and holler around like Jed and Jemimah. Wanduh introduces her fiancé to her parents. There is more hollering and running around with streamers.
Cue: Enter the Preacher, Candy Hanks aka Patric Catani, with his big red and white striped Candy Cane to beat the gospel into the infidels, with his mad sense of rhythm. They kneel and beg for mercy. Am I’m ready to do the same? I could be watching an old re-run of Hee-Haw or the Carole Burnett show.
Finally it’s Kevin’s turn to take the stage. This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for: fresh in Berlin, her first solo album since the split of the genius-cult-darlings-of-the-underground-electro-scene-duo, Blectum from Blechdom, newly out on Chicks On Speed records – the only record label for a self-respecting, competent, electro-chick. All eyes are riveted upon her. Still wearing her Martha overalls, checkered shirt and pigtails, wielding her banjo like a pro, Kevin aka Kristen Erickson, opens with a rounding rendition of “Use Your Heart as A Telephone”, a piece of gut-wrenchingly sincere schmalz from the album.
One ‘hit’ after another follows, tales of love turned to cheese curds, sung like every one was her greatest and she was dying of leukemia and given this one last chance to perform from the “Make A Wish Foundation”. I’m talking a 110%,delivery, really clutching the microphone and making grande dame arm gestures. In combination with her self-mocking lyrics and get-up the effect is tres ironique. I don’t like my irony quite so thick these days, so I had to go outside for air. But the rest of the audience was going wild for it.
I came back in time to see Kevin’s grand finale, a rousing rendition of Whitney Houston’s “And I will always love you”, a song whose sole lyric content seems to consist of this one phrase, in case you’d never noticed. The audience was coaxing her into ad infinitum repetitions of this climax and Kevvy was really giving it her all. I was afraid she was going to go into apoplexy, but there was always just one more chance for her to tell us she loved us lurking around the corner. It was all very operatic or operetta-ic.
Jamie Lidell, like his predecessors, walks the tightrope between autism and genius. A virtuoso of computer sampling, mutating and wailing his own original soulesque vocals over the top, it is, like Kevin Blechdom, something one must either love or hate. Whichever you are inclined towards, it is unarguably fascinating to watch him ‘work’. The only irritating thing is that he always has to pace back and forth between his laptop and stage-front. As a non-electro-fetishist (at least of this post-funk genre), I could’ve done with more on the entertainment factor, but that would’ve probably been compromising the technical factors. Sigh. I thought it was pretty hysterical: as in I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. I guess you’ve figured out that was the overall effect a night of vaudeville on the ufer had on me. It was a night of anti-heroes. And with that blunt conclusion, I made my own un-heroic way home, without sticking around for the trio’s grande finale of ‘That’s What Friends Are For’.
p.s. I made that up.