The Tiger Lillies at Usine C


I’ve definitely been out of touch with the music industry for the better part of a decade. On Thursday I went to see a band that I had never previously hear of, that I initially thought were derivative because they were just starting out, and then after doing a little bit of digging discover that I need to eat my shorts as they have been around since the mid 1990s and have recorded and released 24 CDs (according to Wikipedia 31). Ooops!

But let me backtrack slightly. I’ve always had a kind of love/hate relationship with the lyrics of Bertolt Brecht. Music by Kurt Weill is wonderful in my humble estimation, so there are some versions of the Threepenny Opera that I adore, and others that aren’t so hot.

Initially The Tiger Lillies had been peddled to me as a kind of Brecht/Weill, Threepenny Opera kind of thing, and seeing as how I was feeling slightly frisky I figured “what the hey!” And went with open ears.

They started with more than a bang, coming out on stage and playing Heroin and Cocain. As you can hear, they lyrics are kind of (if you squint slightly) like Brecht (via Marc Blitzstein). But the music isn’t quite Weill

It isn’t quite Welk, either. But it is a tad closer. At first I was quite charmed. Martyn Jacques sings similarly to Jimmy Somerville although I doubt he is a Smalltown Boy.

But once I made that connection, I was off to the races. Over the course of about two dozen songs (of which I only recognized one, Autumn Leaves) I was able to come up with a bunch of different performers who had some sort of connection to The Tiger Lillies. Ranging from Mel Torme

to Tiny Tim

To Spike Jones & his City Slickers

If you want the complete list write to me if you’re curious. Some of them are Rusty Warren, Bun E. Carlos, L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres, Charles Bukowski.

While the references are all over the place, the songs I heard seemed to be mining a fairly similar terrain. I don’t know if that was due to my being unfamiliar with the songs and as a consequence concentrating mainly on the lyrics and the stage show, or if in fact most of the songs that the Tiger Lillies have recorded over their 24 CD career (maybe 31) indeed sound alike (somehow as I write that sentence, I’m not too certain even I can’t believe that all their songs sound alike).

While it is all fine and dandy to try to shock people with graphic content, I was quite surprised while listening to realize that the rapes, murders and debauched behavior that they sung about was quite similar to what was sung in the 1920s and 30s to shock people. Somehow I would have presumed that someone singing in angry clown makeup in the 21st century who was looking to offend people’s sensibilities would have sung about something potentially more on the edge than straight heterosexual rapes, stabbings and standard issue drug addicts. It gives The Tiger Lillies a faintly quaint air, which almost has a wistful aura of nostalgia.

Kind of like “why can’t we go back to the gold old days, when it was much clearer and easier to understand what behavior was bad?” While at the same time they were definitely members of the 21st century as there wasn’t a single glass of alcohol anywhere on stage. I’m still trying to work out if I like the nostalgia schtick, or if I was disappointed that they hadn’t revised their book of sins so that is was more contemporary.

I gotta hand it to Adrian Huge,

who while not quite the reincarnation of Keith Moon

he comes about as close as I’ve ever seen anyone since Uncle Ernie.

The other Adrian in the band, Adrian Stout, played a mighty fine bass and musical saw, but I was a tad dismayed to see the Theremin that he had set up in front of him go unplayed for the duration of the concert.

We were sitting behind local vedette Eric Braun from Usine 106u who was thoroughly and completely enjoying himself. Behind us was Marie Chouinard although she didn’t last four songs (which quite possibly could have warmed the cockles of Mr. Jacques’ heart). Maybe she didn’t get into the nostalgia.

Given the crowd and the band’s predilections, I can’t understand why they played in the big hall at Usine C, the smaller stage which is much more cabaret-like would have been absolutely perfect for them. Instead of fairly large and cavernous soft-seater where there was a distinct sensation of an awful lot of empty space right behind us. I was very happy to hear that this was their third time performing at Usine C, which means that they have played in Montreal at least three times. But I would be worried for whomever is promoting the fourth time.

It’s tough after one two hour and fifteen minute (including intermission) performance to really have a complete and comprehensive understanding of any band, let alone one as on the fringe as The Tiger Lillies. I’d love it if there was some sort of connection I could make to the Woody Allen film What’s Up, Tiger Lily?. Or if there was anyway I could figure out to connect the band and/or their songs any of the flowers called Tiger Lily to the fact that none of them are native to England (where the band is from) but I can’t. Which leaves me having to make stuff up on my own.

After having read the various raves about them from people as diverse as Matt Groening, Alex Kapranos, Mark Mothersbaugh, Marc Almond and Nan Goldin on their website I’m almost tempted to believe I might have missed something. But I don’t think I did. On the other hand I am not as completely over the top and gung-ho about The Tiger Lillies as they are. I’m definitely going to have to find a copy of the Gorey End, because I like Edward Gorey and the Kronos Quartet, before I commit to a final judgment on and about them.

And now, finally, while copy and pasting that link – I think I unearthed why I distinctly have this sensation of having missed something during their show. The Tiger Lillies are a theatrical band, the music that they perform is all about characters and events. Sometimes the Tiger Lillies even perform an opera. The show that I saw did not have any songs that were linked, there was no connections between anything. It was as if someone had given me a bunch of photographs of people without any background information and then wondered why I did not know any details about the people in the photographs after having looked at the photographs once.

Sorry about being slow.