Antony & the Johnsons, Kiki & Herb

Sat. October 1, 2005 12:00 AM
by Eric Roldan

Not Just a Drag: Antony & the Johnsons, Kiki & Herb will touch your heart and kick your ass.

The gay community has gender issues. It is typical to refer to different places as a "boy bar," or maybe have a "lesbian night." Maybe, possibly, probably, you've found yourself unwilling to hangout at Spin lately because it's been taken over by ladies without lipstick. Your dyke friend has asked that you please not go to some mall-looking sugar daddy bar anymore because she gets overcharged for drinks if she can even get the bartender's attention. We are divided and the rainbow stripes can seem like borders sometimes. When you look even deeper, the gay community has relegated out trans friends to sideshow entertainment -- puppet-like freaks without anything to contribute besides a bitchy attitude and cheesy innuendo. We praise empty drag queen shows with little artistic value. Nightly displays of no talent besides a high threshold for corset stitches and cakey makeup are boring and tragic. I'm happy you can be beautiful and graceful, but it's not amusing to watch you hobble on those four inch spikes, and I refuse to pay for it. Write your own stuff, get your own look, make it genuine and make a statement. We'll still love you. Probably more, actually.

The first time I heard music by Antony and the Johnsons, I cried. It was at Schubas earlier this year, and my just starting relationship was looking for a date. We looked through the Reader and thought this show sounded interesting: an androgynous piano player with a trilling, angelic voice singing about not knowing what gender he was. We got to the song about falling in love with a dead boy, and my boyfriend and I wept like injured toddlers. With two albums under their belt, having been discovered by and having toured with Lou Reed, Antony and the Johnsons have just won the Mercury Prize in U.K. for best album. " I Am A Bird Now " (Secretly Canadian Records) boasts guest appearances by Rufus Wainwright, Lou Reed, Boy George and Devandra Banhart. It is haunting and gorgeous, and it is so rare to see someone bare themselves beyond naked without looking a fool.

Kiki & Herb are from NYC. They have a powerful cabaret show that includes Justin Bond as Kiki, a singer with a penchant for drinking, tender recollections and raspy interpretations. Kenny Mellman plays Herb, a piano player with limitless stamina and sharp comic timing. They perform a plethora of songs ranging from Annie Lennox to Nine Inch nails, Joy Division to Stevie Nicks. An elaborate back story details having performed on and being thrown off of the Love Boat, estranged children and serial marriages, a close friendship with Grace Kelly and a current comeback tour (see the bio section at kikiandherb.com for more on that). Kiki & Herb have some studio recordings out there, but their crown jewel is " Kiki & Herb Will Die for You, Live at Carnegie Hall ." A crisp, almost three hour recording of the best drag/cabaret act that would eat anything at Gentry for breakfast.

If the word "queer" is going to become the newest way for language to work towards inclusivity, hopefully we'll see a new community free of hypocritical segregation. If art and music are going to help, Kiki & Herb and Antony and the Johnsons will be cited as work that saved us from empty performance by gender-queers. Please join me in welcoming them to Chicago:

Antony and the Johnsons will perform at the Park West on October 4, 2005, ticketmaster.com
Kiki & Herb will perform at the Museum of Contemporary Art on October 14, 2005, ticketweb.com