Upon entering Rock City this evening an hour prior to the scheduled show time, tunes of yore play through the PA - the aura is that of a Victorian music hall rather than a rock venue; a clever device in that the feeling is one of entering Emilie's world from the offset. As the lights dim just after 7pm, the three Bloody Crumpets currently on 'The Asylum' tour, namely Aprella, Veronica and Contessa, appear as silhouettes one at a time, backlit behind a circular screen within a clock frame (reminiscent of a prop from Jim Henson's 1986 David Bowie movie 'Labyrinth'), before venturing out onto the stage to be greeted with huge cheers from an enthusiastic audience. Then, Emilie herself appears, also in silhouette, evidently masked, and strikes several 'sinister' poses with the effect of a Murnau-esque expressionist nightmare in the context of a Victorian shadow theatre. Industrial beats resonate poundingly around the venue as the mechanics of The Asylum grind slowly to life. This signifies the beginning of the evening's first song, '4 o'Clock', a hauntingly melancholic number about insomnia and incarceration, an apposite opening piece that works as an 'in' to The Asylum. Now the audience are well and truly within Emilie's world and what ensues is a two and a half hour show incorporating spoken narrative, burlesque performance, elements of carnivalesque theatre and, of course, at the heart of the show, the emotionally varied soundscapes that comprise her 'Victoriandustrial' musical aesthetic. In fact, narrative concepts and concomitant music are married in perfect unison throughout as Emilie's life experiences are laid bear, sometimes metaphorical, but other times more blatant, with the overall effect more akin to that of a musical than rock gig. That is to say, a subversive musical which conveys a similar anti-repressive vibe to a Richard O'Brien production, although I resist from drawing any further parallels to the likes of 'Rocky Horror...' as Emilie's show is an innovatively unique experience in its own right.
The four ladies deliver a performance through impressively tight choreography and a script coloured with moments of improv that is tailored to the show's location with sporadic Robin Hood/Maid Marian references, such as when Veronica proclaims "these barricades right here are to protect you from me and not the other way round....I'm really looking to kiss some girls...I can be Robin Hood and I'm looking for a fucking Maid Marian!" She then climbs from the stage into the photopit to, as promised, kiss a few girls who are right up against the security barrier. Even when occasional glitches occur with fluffed lines, Emilie saves the moment through her natural charisma, at one point burying her head in Veronica's cleavage before declaring "I feel safe in here", and then stating they'll get into their "Victorian time machine" to go back ninety seconds and back on script. Despite the seriousness of The Asylum and everything that concept represents from Emilie's life, the show also contains a humorous and convivial dimension, scripted and otherwise - even when a rat falls, both visually and audibly, onto her harpsichord she engenders much laughter in the crowd by saying "I think I'd like you all to realise that this rat just played the harpsichord!" However, perhaps most impressive in the whole show, is Emilie's extraordinary musical talents which she exercises in abundance with her wide, powerful vocal range and alternates between playing the harpsichord and electric violin on certain songs. 'Unlaced' and 'Face The Wall' are quite simply fucking awesome. I've heard and seen other musicians flirt with this style of metalled-up violin (such as Olli Vänskä's "fuck the guitar solo" routine in a Turisas show), but Emilie proves herself a true master of her instrument. Beyond playing dexterity and technique, her aforementioned neo-classical pieces are a true expression of inner emotion and passion with a profoundly affective depth that is characteristic of genuine virtuosic ability. The importance of such an emotional and personal musical expression is perhaps alluded to when she precedes 'Face The Wall' by informing the audience "now this is what I actually do, so please be kind". I don't think there was ever any danger of the contrary and the rapturous crowd reactions after this piece are evidence enough of the ubiquitous appreciation of her phenomenal talent on display in Rock City tonight.
Setlist-wise, the bias is, as expected, towards the 'Opheliac' album as those present are treated to impassioned renditions of 'Liar', 'The Art of Suicide', 'Shalott', 'Dead is the New Alive', 'I Know Where You Sleep', 'God Help Me', 'I Want My Innocence Back', 'Misery Loves Company' and the poignantly ironic 'Thank God I'm Pretty' as a set closer. Prior to the latter, we have an initial encore of 'Bohemian Rhapsody', Emilie's uniquely brilliant version of course, and Freddie Mercury's one-time equivocal lyrics are given fresh meaning in the context of The Asylum concept, particularly over the a cappella intro (plus violin mimicry of Brian May's guitar solos). When the show finishes, house lights are turned on and Eric Idle's optimistic anthem 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' plays through the PA as Rock City's audience leave the venue with beaming grins, having experienced two and a half hours of pure carnivalesque entertainment. Despite all the scripted and choreographed elements that constitute The Asylum show, a genuine sincerity in the performance also shines through and, considering how personal the themes are to Emilie, the overall effect is that of a collective emancipatory experience....and a fuck load of fun! And I haven't even mentioned the cake throwing; tea spitting (which apparently is not actually tea in those pots); balloons and glitter explosions. The lengthy show time seems to pass by rather quickly which is always a positive sign. In short, absolutely fucking incredible! Returning to these shores in March for seven more shows, UK fans have another chance to experience the artistic insanity that is Emilie Autumn's 'The Asylum'. My advice? Get yourself the fuck along to one of these dates and free your mind...at least for the two and a half hour duration of this "mad tea party".
Saturday 30th January 2010
Rock City in Nottingham, UK
Review & Photography by Mark Holmes
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