Photo credit: Lisa Kannakko
Chicks on Speed
Photo credit: Michael Lavine
lectroclash. Gotta admit, it’s a great tag for a musical movement. Certainly more enticing-sounding than “grunge”, which was probably the last pop music movement of note in North America (“nu-metal” being less a movement than a mere ephemeral beerfart in the breeze). So it was with a slight tingle of anticipation that I ambled on over to Toronto’s Tequila Lounge, the venue run by the venerable people formerly responsible for the El Mocambo (where the Rolling Stones and Elvis Costello, among other notables, played historic gigs), to check out NYC music mogul Larry Tee’s all-female Electroclash 2002 festival, featuring local-gal-made-good—or is that bad?—Peaches topping the bill.
Something told me that too much of even a good thing on this night might be too much for me, so I planned to arrive around mid-evening to catch the heavily hyped Chicks on Speed and, of course, Our Lady Peaches. I was given the wrong set times, however, and instead ended up getting the full Electroclash 2002 treatment, arriving just as Tee was ending what sounded like a generic DJ set of standard thumping electronica (I kept thinking of The Osbournes episode where Ozzy is complaining at his daughter’s birthday party, “Bloody hell, it’s horrible, just the same beat that goes on for hours and hours, man!”), only to hand over the stage to the evening’s first act, Tracy and the Plastics.
What occurred next was either an experiment in Warholian nihilistic multi-media Pop Art, or just a silly girl with a cool computer and too much time on her hands mumbling narcoleptically into a microphone while projecting incoherent images on a screen behind her.
Personally, I lean toward the latter notion.
“I’m too old for this, at least sing something,” a guy beside me yelled. Turns out he was supposedly a childhood friend of Peaches’, who, pleased that I was finding his heckling far more amusing than the act onstage, soon began regaling me with tales of how he and Merrill (“Peaches” is really Merrill Nisker, former Toronto schoolteacher and Indigo Girls-type folk singer) are real tight, how he does her videos, how she’s real cool and doesn’t do coke before the show, and on and on. Meanwhile, Tracy and her Plastic computer had left the stage, and almost no one in the crowded venue (lots of 1980s-type leg warmers in evidence on the ladies, and one guy even walking around in a bathrobe) seemed to notice, as DJ Tee cranked up some more bass-heavy electronica, errrr, “electroclash” stylings.
Then came Tee’s next act, W.I.T. (an acronym for “Whatever It Takes”). Instantly, as the three cute ladies began their cute, choreographed attempts at kitschy pop, I felt an acute pang of nostalgia for the comparatively massive genius of Bananarama. This angsty feeling only increased when they proceeded to massacre the Cars’ “Just What I Needed”—when I start feeling outrage over injustices done to the back catalogue of Ric Ocasek, then it’s time to head for the bar, and quick.
“Sorry, we’re all out of Jaegermeister,” the besieged bartender yelled at me frantically in my hour of need. I guess I wasn’t the only one already feeling the urge to smooth out the rough edges of Electroclash 2002. As that great underrated Scottish rock band Nazareth once sang, “If you wanna rock, you gotta find somebody to roll,” and the Freudian implications of that statement aside, so far this event was not passing that test. As W.I.T. rambled on, looking like they were now rehashing the “vogueing” craze briefly popularized by Madonna, the bar area was becoming so crowded that even getting a beer became a major achievement. Meanwhile, a cute Asian trio dressed in ‘80s retro gear tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I’d take a snapshot of them. I happily obliged.
W.I.T. left the stage, and the increasingly inebriated crowd seemed to take no notice whatsoever of that fact. Hopefully Chicks on Speed would rectify the situation and get us all primed up for Peaches. “Hello Montreal,” the lead singer announced as they took the stage. The bad part was, she wasn’t being ironic. Someone reminded her that she was actually in that part of the Great White North called Toronto. Then she made an even worse mistake: she apologized, complaining of “tour fatigue.” The irony here, of course, lies in the band’s very moniker. Guess the “speed” wasn’t working too well for the gals on this night. Neither, except for the odd decent riff emerging from the din, was the music.
Which of course, leaves us with the hometown girl. Her website is called Peachesrocks.com, and, sure enough, when Ms. Nisker hit the stage—fresh from opening some shows for rock hounds ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead and Queens of the Stone Age—the mediocrity of what had gone on for the past couple of hours in the name of “Electroclash” was immediately forgotten. For Peaches, you see, as she proclaims in her killer tune “Rock Show”, really does rock, dudes and dudettes. And that is what sets her apart from her supposed compadres in this event: Peaches represents a way forward for rock, electro-based or otherwise, emulating without imitating, while those acts that preceded her instead offered only pale imitations of the past.
Accompanied only by her glorified beat-box wired into the club’s sound-system, Peaches proved a marvel of self-reinvention, which, after all, the best rock and roll has always been about (a reticent young David Jones, after all, also once sat in folk clubs strumming his acoustic guitar before becoming an electrified, sexually ambiguous glam-dandy called Ziggy Stardust). Yet it was still hard to reconcile Peaches’ hometown past while watching her onstage, scantily clad in tight leather short-shorts, a variety of flimsy halter tops, fish-net stockings, stilettos and little else, writhing sexually atop the club’s monitors while punk-rapping songs from her Teaches of Peaches debut like “AA XXX” and “Lovertits”, even offering up a massive dildo to the crowd during “Set It Off”.
Like gender-bending prime-time Bowie, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop and even Lou Reed in his glam days (and indeed, with her shortish black hair and aviator shades, Peaches did evoke a passing resemblance to the Street Hassle-era Reed), Peaches got the boys hard and the girls wet, crossing gender lines effortlessly, radiating a hyperbolic sexuality that was too hot to be merely ironic, that seemed far beyond the usual binary male/female division. She even offered herself up for a bit of crowd surfing that saw her lower orifices being prodded and poked by members of both genders, yet still was displeased with her too-short trip around the front of the stage:
“Fucking typical conservative Toronto,” she griped. “Anywhere else they would have passed me all the way to the back!”
No wonder then, that Merrill Nisker had to leave this typically staid, work-ethic-oriented WASP city for the more decadent climes of Berlin in order to truly become “Peaches”. And as she delivered her anthem “Fuck The Pain Away” near the end of Electroclash 2002, it seemed very likely that she would soon be leaving behind this nascent musical movement, which she really has already transcended, as well. You go, girl!