And so Emilie Autumn's 'The Asylum Tour: The Key' arrives in Sheffield to transform another venue into a mutual carnivalesque experience of anti-repressive abandon and subversive indulgence. Nearly a month and a half on from when I first caught one of the shows near the beginning of the tour in Nottingham, tonight's performance sees Emilie and her Bloody Crumpets in full flow, with tighter choreography, a slightly altered setlist, and newly scripted elements. With an addition to the Crumpet ensemble, Captain Maggot is first to appear onstage, emerging from her silhouetted guise behind the backlit circular screen, before she is joined by Aprella, Naughty Veronica, and The Blessed Contessa. Judging by the loud cheers each of the women receive, which are noticeably vociferous for Veronica, it's apparent that the Bloody Crumpets also have their own fanbase in attendance. Then, just as the show commenced in Nottingham, Emilie herself appears as a silhouette in her Rat Queen costume, changing her sinister pose as each intro beat of '4 o'Clock' resonates through the PA, the stark image reminding me once again of an expressionist nightmare through the medium of shadow theatre. 'Opheliac' follows, before a rendition of the bittersweet irony, and wonderfully inappropriate joviality, of 'The Art of Suicide'. There is no performance of 'Liar' this evening, although the set still includes 'Misery Loves Company', 'Shalott', 'Dead is the New Alive', 'God Help Me', and encores of 'Bohemian Rhapsody', 'Let the Record Show' and 'Thank God I'm Pretty'. Each song is, of course, interposed with the quasi-theatrical elements which make Emilie's show so unique. Even one of the tour's roadies has now assumed an acting role of sorts as an asylum worker, clad in white coat, and chases Emilie around the stage in an attempt to put her back in her cell prior to the brilliantly ironic 'Thank God I'm Pretty'. Emilie's virtuosic metal shredding violin talents are on display once again during 'Unlaced' (a precursor to Veronica's 'Rat Game'), and an impassioned, heartfelt rendition of neo-classical piece 'Face the Wall'. She is also in fine voice throughout and, together with her Crumpets, gives it her all in a ceaselessly energetic performance.
The show works on both surface and depth levels, which I guess largely depends on each audience member's propensity for understanding the metaphors and intended meaning inherent within each scripted element and songs' lyrics, and the overriding emancipatory dynamic of Emilie's Asylum. On a surface level, a lot of the humour serves to simply entertain by engendering laughter in the crowd but the very subject matters that are infused with comedic emphasis are actually very serious and carry a greater satirical weight for those who choose to interpret them in this way. Satire is rife throughout in the guise of entertainment so we're talking comedy with a social function here - apart from the message of embracing 'difference' as a positive quality within the confines of Emilie's Asylum (and beyond), the show satirises, among other things, contemporary attitudes and general ignorance towards mental illness. And this it does very effectively through a burlesque aesthetic (burlesque, that is, in its original conception as a satirical tool). It's very clever stuff but, like I say, for those who want to simply be entertained free from profound contemplation, the show works a treat in this sense too. It's a shame, however, there are also audience members present tonight, noticeably balding middle-aged men, who occasionally mar the atmosphere by seeing fit to sporadically yell inane remarks like "show us your tits", but Veronica's perfectly timed comeback to one such incident aptly quashes the perpetrator. In short, Emilie Autumn's show is one of the most entertaining, mentally stimulating, provocative experiences you could ever subject your senses to. Art doesn't get more sincere in its purpose than this. Quite frankly, it also makes your average rock or metal gig look ever so dull.
Tuesday 9th March 2010
The Leadmill in Sheffield, UK
Review & Photography by Mark Holmes
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