The air was abuzz, and thick like honey, Sunday night, Nov. 10th at the Biltmore, home of beloved weekly burlesque show Kitty Nights. But this night, something extra special was going down. Adding to the collective bubbling excitement and anticipation at this sold-out show, there was also a sense of commiserating…of dare I say it, a shared vibe of love tinged with the bittersweetness of loss. We, the hungry mass were primed, not only to revel in the art of burlesque, but also to pay homage to the night’s honoree, the recently passed music icon, Lou Reed.
On the roster were Vancouver burly high priestesses Burgundy Brixx and Lola Frost, and New York darlings, Darlinda, Just Darlinda and Legs Malone (a favourite frequent-flyer to our fair city), along with the witty Purrfessor (doing double-duty tonight as host & musician), with the ever-smokin’ Cherry On Top DJ’ing and the kitty-du-noir, the delicately delightful China Divina. The live band was composed of The Purrfesor (Doug Thoms) on Bass and Vocals, Mark Richardson on Guitar, Mike Ferguson on Drums, Johnny Bongo on Keys & Sax, and Meg Engel on Violin.
The receptive audience was last on the ‘roster’. Lou Reed and his band The Velvet Underground, left an eclectic musical legacy to generations many times over (as evidenced by the mixed crowd), which is a testament of their far-reaching influence. As THE hipster (this cat was hip before there was even a notion to name it) and songman, Lou Reed was renowned as talented and unpredictable, adept at blending styles and genres, and often eschewing lines in both his musical and his personal life. Such was this free-spirited, hard-to-pin-down, oft-times mercurial raconteur, and we loved him for it. (In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a naysayer, in any nook or cranny of The Biltmore, from among the drinking, sitting, standing, chatting, contented Reed and ‘Underground’ fans). One thing was clear; no matter where the hell we had stumbled out of, we all there to share a common love. We were “waiting…waiting for the man”.
Knowing the breadth and scope of music crafted by Reed and co., I wondered what songs would be chosen to honour him. It was going to be a roulette wheel of musicality, and I was raring to spin it and see where it landed! With the fine talent serving up the entertainment, it was going to be hard to go wrong (or was it wrong to go hard? And would that be a bad thing..? *winky*wink*).
After the goody “Bag of Sex” and “Burgundy’s Box” of prizes were presented to the audience, the lights went down, the music began…and the night felt dark and warm, like a Lou Reed song. It all became kind of hazy, poignant, powerful, crazy, melancholic, nostalgic, dramatic, sweet night. The kind of night that walks around with just the right hint of cockiness and bravado, sexily slumping into shadowy doorways. The kind that has a whisky-and-cigarettes voice that makes you not care what the hell is happening, and not want to label nor analyze anything because… It. Is. All. So. Fucking. Good. And you trust that night. You just do. The man who so loved poetry, got a poetic send-off.
So in a poetic, understated, Reed-esque way, I shall try to recollect pieces, fragments and sounds that pieced together, became that night. Here goes…
The Purrfessor shared a few choice quotes from homages by friends of Lou Reed, with gold nuggets such as, “he was the captain of freaks and misfits who told it all. And told it with honesty.” (Reader: if you know who quoteth that, do let me know!) The band then launched into a jazzy, spirited “Dirty Boulevard”. The band was in good form, a row of classy gents and lacey ladies as the sax, violins and drums played.
Johnny Bongo wailed out a mean sax for the intro to “Sweet Jane” as Legs Malone stepped out onto the stage (not to discredit her namesake). She was a glittery, leggy vision, a tall, glass o’ sparkling water – all shiny confidence and lanky limbs, accented by a high voltage smile. A Donna Reed of the 1950’s but with edge and sass for the 2010’s.
Kitty Nights’ mama tigress Burgundy Brixx took the stage with her usual dramatic flair. This time to “Venus in Furs”, aptly donning a dark, long fur coat draped over her as she cascaded her mane and silhuette into sensuous shapes, eventually ending on a round platform. A torchsong done in classic burlesque fashion, by the ever-elegant Ms. Brixx. Her classical burlesque numbers and creative costumes never disappoint. Brixx is synonymous with quality and class; add a dash of sweetness, then sip lingeringly and enjoy.
And then there was Darlinda, Just Darlinda.
To describe her act would be to do her injustice. Better to…well, experience it. She had two numbers (as did Legs). In the first one, she brought out all her New York performance art goodness. She attempted to straddle a chair (with a willing Roxette Star sitting in), repeatedly mounting it, then falling on her ass, then mounting it, then falling on her ass. Hilarious, and horny, and bizarre and sexual, and …well, Darlinda, Just Darlinda! (I would later learn from scouring her videos that this intriguing performer has done it all, with wonderful technique, edgy humour, grit and apparently, brass ovaries!)
The enchantress Lola Frost then took the stage. When it comes to all things Lola, I am slightly biased as she is one of my favourite burlesque artists (I am certainly not alone!). Here is a woman who knows how to yield power, sensuality, theatricality and vulnerability all to exquisite effect. Never one to be pigeon-holed, her acts and style widely vary from classic to neoburlesque and could be anything, depending on the angle of the moon, the alignment of the planets, and whatever her cat-like reflexes feel like sharing. For “Heroin”, she stood centre stage, dripping with androgynous sex appeal, shades on, a man’s suit, white shirt, a tie. To go into more detail would be to rob you of the pleasure of her artistry should you be fortunate enough to see this video or better, see this number resurrected live. (Google it. And everything else done by her. You’re welcome.)
Brixx once again performed, an ethereal goddess in white, almost surreal for the poignant “Perfect Day”. Darlinda’s second number involved a dangling cigarette, a platinum blond wig, dark shades, a “walk of shame”, and a syringe needle. The night was FULL of surprises! The audience AND her syringe will have many stories to tell. Cheeky, cheeky Darlinda, Just Darlinda.
The group number was an emotional highlight for me. All dancers shared the iconic symbols, Lou Reed’s black leather jacket and black shades. During “White Light, White Heat”, they each took a turn donning the jacket and shades, putting their own spin on the song. As the song culminated into the finale, the dancers collectively (& tenderly) laid his jacket and shades on the stage. A bittersweet, touching tribute in the picture of these symbols, empty but yet carrying the weight of such a memory, of this great artist and his contribution. The song lingered there for a moment, it seemed as long as we wanted to linger on this sweet note, and on this poetic night and on this swirling of collective love and light and artistry. We lingered. Just enough to say feel an inevitable goodbye.
A poetic night blending various forms of art in one place, for a poetry-loving artist, and unapologetic teller of truths. Thank you for showing us we are all the freaks and misfits. Good night, Lou Reed.