Emilie Autumn in Melbourne: time to leave the asylum

ImageEmilie Autumn is an amazing singer-songwriter who has turned dark times into performance; who has in fact built a fantastical persona and entertaining stage act under the asylum for wayward Victorian girls motif.

Her most recent album, Fight Like A Girl, took the bold step of turning institutionalisation into a musical where independence — girl power — wins out over patriarchal straight jackets. And more power to her. Such a themed, narrative album was to be applauded.

But it hasn’t translated to her latest Flag stage show, which doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. With a surprisingly unadorned stage compared to her previous — and sensational — visit to St KIlda’s Espy, with songs interrupted by burlesque, a quaint fan fic skit and the once amusing, now, quite frankly, past its time, rat game, in which offside Veronica pashes an audience member to give the crowd a lesbo thrill, the show lacked cohesion.

The sound wasn’t great, either, the whole gig set to a backing track that often overwhelmed the at-times patchy vocals.

There were highlights as songs such as ‘Fight Like a Girl’ blasted out, and signs of what the show could’ve been when the always entertaining Captain Maggot, under-used, stalked Emilie in demonic garb on stilts.

Emilie is perhaps trapped at the moment, between wanting to break out her artistic vision but feeling compelled to play to her fan base — there’s a great deal of audience support for the rat game, for instance. Will her fans go with her if she leaves the asylum? Will they accompany her on a journey past the dalliance with madness and teasing sexuality?

It will be interesting to see what direction Emilie takes next, but I hope the next stage show flies a different flag.

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Emilie Autumn at the Espy: so Victoriana!

emilie autumn

The Gershwin Room at St Kilda’s Espy (aka the Esplanade hotel) was the perfect setting for last night’s ‘Asylum’ gig by Emilie Autumn, a sideshow to her tour with the Harvest Festival. The American performer loves her Victoriana, melding lace and feathers with lashing of goth and steampunk, and the Espy’s peeling paint, pressed metal ceilings and ageing blemished mirrors suited the show to a tee. Or perhaps to a ‘tea’ might be more appropriate …

Emilie is a powerhouse, at home on the keyboard and the violin, with a decent range in her vocals and oodles of expression, and a deftness when it comes to interacting with her adoring audience, most done up to the nines.

She also has her support crew — Captain Maggot, voluptuous Veronica and dotty Contessa — to keep things lively on stage, including tea parties, lesbian pantomime and a girl-on-girl kissing sideshow called the Rat Game. Contessa and Maggot are adept at fire twirling, and Veronica plays a mean keyboard, too. Maggot is a particularly cool character, piratical in nature and small of stature, but possessed of wicked expressions and a top sense of balance, appearing as she does at one stage on stilts.

But there’s no doubt this is EA’s show, and she’s a fascinating ring mistress for this vaudevillean presentation set inside an asylum for wayward girls. Last night’s gig felt much tighter than when I last saw her in late 2009 doing much the same. Last night’s set also featured the title song of her forthcoming album, ‘Fight Like A Girl’, which suggests a similar musical direction to the winning Opheliac.

There were a few minor sound glitches, particularly early on, but songs including ‘Liar’, ‘Opheliac’, ‘I Want My Innocence Back’ and ‘Dead is the New Alive’, performed to thumping backing tracks, evoked effusive responses from the phone-wielding crowd. The only place the show seemed to slip away was towards the end, with a series of might-have-been final tunes proving false.

The encore was a cheeky singalong to a recording of Monty Python’s ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’, with EA promising a speedy return to Oz. Keep your dance card open for that one!

Tycho Brahe and Psyche electrify the Espy


It was arranged a week ago and barely publicised, but the Tycho Brahe and Psyche gig at St Kilda’s legendary music haunt the Esplanade Hotel (the Espy) was one of those cosy gatherings that fans salivate over for years after.

Tycho Brahe, from Brisbane, operating in duo mode with Ken Evans on bass and vox and Georgina Emery on keys and backing vocals, opened for German-based duo Psyche in the Espy’s basement room: tiled floor, cats and dogs wallpaper, and oh the cute rudeness in the band room tucked away behind yet another flight of stairs!

I was thrilled to hear Tycho cover Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’, Real Life and Depeche Mode; they pulled Psyche’s Darrin Huss, originally from Canada, up to take lead vocals on ‘Tainted Love’ with its neat segue into the Dr Who theme. They closed with a new track, ‘Love Rocket’ , and it was a blast.

Ken reports that the home studio is operational once more, though work still remains to be done since the family home was submerged during January’s disastrous Brisbane floods.

Psyche were largely unknown terrain for me — they have an excellent track on the Brisbane flood fundraiser Surge and Subside — and they put on an entertaining show, drawing on 30 years worth of material. Darrin was perhaps best described as exuberant as he pranced and yowled for the best part of two hours, giving it his all. Ken returned to do backing vocals on a Yazoo track (‘Situation’?), and there was another Joy Division cover (‘Disorder’, if memory serves) amongst others. ‘Gods and Monsters’ was one track that stood out in the EBM assault overseen by Stefan Rabura.

It was a fun night with an appreciative crowd drawn from across the spectrum: fish nets, tight jeans, checked shirts, sloppy t-shirts. With such a great vibe, it was a definitely a good gig for the psyche.