By J.D. Oxblood
Saturday, November 5
The Bell House, Gowanus, Brooklyn
Friday night’s show was great, but it was Saturday when I was truly washed over by emotion. To be fair, it had kinda started back on Wednesday, sitting at Affaire in the East Village over cocktails and goat cheese fries, chitchatting with friends and waiting for Evelyn Vinyl to take her clothes off. What am I on about? Well, if you were there on Saturday, you heard Nasty Canasta explain where her tattoo—by Scarlet Sinclair—came from, though it may not have moved you the way it did me. I’ll come back to this. Let’s just start by saying that the second I walked into the Bell House—a tad late as I was coming from delivering flowers to a very special birthday girl—I was assaulted by the badass big brass sound of the Outer Borough Brass Band and the belting brash badassness of Broadway Brassy blaring out “Fuck You,” that song about losing a chick to a douche with more dough. I damn near fell to my knees right there.
First and foremost, Doc dedicated the entire evening to the memory of Diane Naegel. Those who are religious say, “make a joyful noise,” and let me say that the Outer Borough brings it, and this is coming from someone who’s spent a lot of time in New Orleans listening to stellar brass bands—and I don’t just mean Rebirth Brass Band, I’m talking the kind of amazing high school bands that march through the streets making the vein in your cock throb with the beat. Outer Borough has a sousaphone, two trumpets, a tenor and baritone sax, a trombone, a snare and a bass, and comes a little left of center by adding a keyboard—but they pack a powerful wallop of sound. Wish they’d been here last night to do “Tenderness” with BK.
The hostesses of the evening delivered their own takes on charm and grace; the lithe Sapphire Jones gave a lot of love and was gloriously dressed in nothing but tassels and see-through (ahem)s, ensuring that the entire front row never looked at her face. Gigi LaFemme is adapting to her adopted new hometown of Nashville, and the south looks good on her, bringing in southern staples such as “Bless your heart” and “y’all,” and colorful phrases you know she didn’t learn in Queens, like “My hair is fallin’ flat right now because she is so hot.” It suits her sweetness, and it was lovely to hear her sing with the Outer Borough.
Amber Ray brought the house down with her peacock act; the men were wolf-whistling and the noise was anthemic. Ms. Tickle reprised her “Madonna” act, and now that she’s showing all the more, the act is all the more impressionable.
Albert Cadabra rocked his straightjacket act to “Living in Stereo” with a new twist: at the end, he rubs his junk to get it (we imagine) stiff, and hangs his hat on it before leaving the stage. Harvest Moon turned in a remarkable act with a light-up hula hoop hidden in her dress, and Gal Friday wowed in pink satin, glowering a satanic sneer at the crowd while putting both hands on deck.
Hard Corey as Dr. Freeze—another hit with Richard Cheese doing “Ice Ice Baby!” Doc, let’s HIRE Richard Cheese to do live music for an entire show, and we’ll tag team hosting duties—I’ll get a pencil thin mustache and a ruffled tux shirt. Boo Bess inhabited the blue bird of happiness, with a stunning half splits, her foot sideways on the stage, her ankle at an impossible ankle; she also lay flat on her back, head facing downstage, tilting her beak towards us upside-down to bite off a glove. I was still haunted by the image of Magdalena Fox as a chicken last night—what’s up with these chicks? Victoria Privates was longingly lovely in yellow to Patsy Cline’s “You Belong to Me” (another underused genre in burlesque: country). Her blue, blue eyes are dazzling, and she was really working her face, winking at the crowd. She also tied Sapphire Jones for the most interesting panties of the eve. And Jenny C’Est Quoi brought in some fucked-up wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing act that started sheep, then she ate some sheep, then stripped down to wolf and ripped her guts out, reaching through her ribcage to pull out the eaten sheep. Or something like that. Marvelously weird, and obs has been reading too many fairytales—the REAL versions, with woodsmen chopping wolves up and shit.
Let’s not forget Peekaboo Pointe, who did her snowglobe number, turning painfully slow to a cover of “Hazy Shade of Winter,” and when the music changed, she was out of her fur stole and onto a stripper pole. Girl has got some muthafuckin’ moves. The best part of this was actually before the act—the manly stage hands could NOT figure out how to put the pole together, so Peekaboo and Gal Friday came out in their kimonos and solved that shit. HOT. Rosie the Riveter hot.
The Kobe-beefilicious Kobayashi Maru was in some metal man mask—I’m sure I’m missing a nerd reference here, but I don’t care—overalls, silver gloves and Union Jack Docs, and managed to command the attention of every eye in the house by stopping still. And barely twitching. Nixing the overalls, she revealed a metal corset; a stagehand gave her a grinder and she took it to herself with relish, sending broad roostertails of sparks up into the grid, sparks flying close enough to the foot of the stage that we could feel the heat. Someone near me was asking, “How does she do that? Is that a trick?” Um, no, darling, that shit’s real, and it’s really, really cool. The whole mob is screaming.
Then there was Stormy Leather. Do you know what a Cylon is? I’m not enough of a nerd for this crowd, but I saw Battlestar Gallactica at the movies when I was a kid, so at least I know what a Cylon is. Um… Stormy Leather worked with a badass fabricator and got a Cylon costume. And then she stripped out of it. And it had like, lights and lasers on it and shit, and she, like, had these huge heels on inside the robot gear, and then she stripped, and, like, at the very end? She had that creepy red light going up and down her spine. And, like… I ain’t NEVER heard a crowd go that apeshit for a WOMAN at a burlesque show. Really—the only times I’ve heard that much noise was a house full of women hollering for a boylesque act at the BHOF in Vegas. Mother. Fucker.
The night’s grand finale was a twisted bath act, courtesy of, who else: Nasty Canasta, to Mel Torme’s cover of Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman,” climbs into a jumbo-sized Greek diner coffee cup, sponges herself off with the “creamer” and dumps sugar—confetti that sticks to her. Needless to say, at this point in the evening, my notes had deteriorated past legibility.
But backing up a bit, after Luke Ratray played a blistering intermission—all vinyl baby!—Doc Wasabassco hit the stage, waxing about a show he did years ago that was really amazing. Quoting roughly, he said to me from the stage, “J.D., you would’ve loved it,” before noting that I wasn’t around then—I didn’t even exist. “Because in burlesque, you don’t exist until your stage name exist.” He went on—and this part, I’m certain I’m quoting exactly—“You were just some dude. I don’t know your real name, and don’t ever tell me!” I was laughing in agreement: I was just some dude. Some dude I wouldn’t even recognize now.
Earlier in the evening, Nasty had explained where her tattoo came from, which reads “Admission to the smoking ruins, 10 cents,” and how it had become a kind of mantra for her. And I couldn’t stop thinking about this idea, that even disaster could be profitable, that striving to fail is the only way to succeed, and how the very identity of “J.D. Oxblood” was built on the smoking ruins of a charred novelist, a ruined playwright, a burnt-out actor—whatever, that guy was “just some dude.” Burlesque gave me not just a home, but an existence; I’ll never forget taking a literary agent to a burlesque show because she thought I was a “good writer,” with full knowledge that she had rejected one of my novels the very same week. Fuck it—that novel was written by some dude. These days, I’m bandying around a third name just to get to those smoking ruins more expeditiously—and if anyone’s with me on needing another name to encompass all that she is, it’s Nasty Canasta. But as Doc was saying about your “real” name—“don’t ever tell me!”—that’s what almost made me cry, because that’s what burlesque has become to me: a place where you are whoever you say you are, and fuck the punters. I don’t care what you did before you came here, just show me something good. And if you go down in flames, make something out of THAT, and come back tomorrow night!
I never heckle on purpose, but I was keyed up, and at some point, Doc simply gave out a surprisingly high pitched… not a giggle, exactly, more like a chirp, literally lifting off his feet for a moment. I lost myself and barked out, “What was that?” and Doc answered right back, “That was pure mirth!” I melted. I don’t know how much pure mirth you witness in your life, but if you see any at all, I’m betting you work with children, or dogs. Or burlesque performers.
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