Saturday, October 27, 2007

Low-Life Lullabies

Three glorious Tiger Lillies

The bloke in the pub was furious, shouting accusations of blasphemy in harsh, drunken Irish tones at the trio playing in the corner. The singer, a short, round man in a bowler, white shirt, and baggy black trousers held up by suspenders, leaned forward from the two-foot-high stage until he was face-to-face with the heckler. He continued to squeeze his accordion manically while spitting out the song's lyrics in falsetto:

I'm crucifying Jesus, nail him to the cross
The poor old bastard bleeds to death and I don't give a toss
I'm bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang banging in the nails
I'm bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang banging in the nails...

His bandmates, a skinny beanpole on upright bass and a rotund hulk on drums, looked at each other and smirked. The singer and heckler kept at it for some time, a few snarling inches apart, until the drunken Irishman was escorted out the pub's front door.

And that, Dearest Friends, was my introduction to the sick and twisted Tiger Lillies. And I loved it.

What this band does is quite unlike anything I have ever heard. Their music has been described as surreal-anarcho-punk-cabaret, their lyrics as blasphemous, blackly humorous, bawdy, and both Brechtian and Freudian. The world they inhabit is replete with prostitutes, lunatics, murderers, perverts, boogeymen, addicts, and misfits. But make no mistake; this is not just shock opera. Well, alright, a good bit of it is. But their raw, on-the-edge musical depictions of cartoonish grotesques reveal both a strong sense of compassion for us deeply flawed humans, and fierce outrage at the injustices of society.

Singer Martyn Jacques's apparently draws much of his material from the seven years he spent in London's Soho living above a brothel. In the late eighties he hooked up with two Adrians: percussionist Huge and bassist Stout. The compost in which they wallow has made them incredibly prolific: twenty-two albums, collaborations with the Kronos Quartet and Edward Gorey, an amazing adaptation of Heinrich Hoffmann's macabre Shockheaded Peter fairytales, and a Grammy nomination. Marilyn Manson loves them, as do Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos, David Byrne, Matt Groening, Terry Gilliam, and, of course, I. But, not surprisingly, they've always stayed out of the mainstream, swimming instead in murky tributaries.

So why have I chosen now to post about them? Well, for months I've been intending to confess to you all my love of the Lillies. But the immediate catalyst is that they're playing Vancouver tomorrow night, in, of all places, a deconsecrated church -- I simply cannot wait!! Dearest Friends, between now and year-end they're also playing these dates in Canada, on both coasts of the US, and in continental Europe. I beg you, go see them.

And so, onto the music. If you've not yet figured it out, let me paraphrase the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council: "The following songs contain scenes of violence, coarse language and nudity intended for adult audiences. Listener discretion is advised."

The Tiger Lillies - Banging in the Nails
The Tiger Lillies - Sheep
The Tiger Lillies - Whore
The Tiger Lillies - Snip Snip
The Tiger Lillies with the Symphony Orchestra of Norrlandsoperan - Masturbating Jimmy
The Tiger Lillies - Kill You
The Tiger Lillies - Heroin & Cocaine

Find out all about The Tiger Lillies over here. You can e-buy large swathes of their music here or if you'd like to get your grubby mitts on the hard stuff, have a look over here.

And here's a wee bit of the live experience for you. From a June 2007 show in Moscow.