Voltaire, Hellblinki, This Way to the Egress @ Area 51 10.14
It’s an hour or so after the sun has gone down on a crisp October evening, and practically everyone I know is at Area 51 to see Voltaire. Although this is not the first time he’s played here––coming in 2001 for the Dark Arts Festival and playing several other shows over the years––his shows are always packed.
Everyone is dressed up, which is rare these days, even among the die-hards. With Voltaire’s recent forays into the steampunk aesthetic (a fashion and musical offshoot of cosplay, featuring science-fiction tinged clockwork Victoriana), there are more than a few itty bitty top hats on the women, full-sized top hats on the men, cravats and corsets, and the usual 10 gallons of black eyeliner. Hey, I’m not judging: I am wearing a pint of the stuff myself.
The downstairs at Area 51 fills up fast. Voltaire is already at his post behind his merchandise booth. He spends time talking with each patron at length. He is mildly flirtatious with the girls, charming with the guys and witty with everyone. I immediately drop $50 on 2 CDs and a really cool pewter key pendant in his signature deco-curlicue style, emblazoned with his name and the motto, “It’s so easy being evil.” I insist it won’t go with my ‘40s-style, spooky-eyeball-covered dress, but he convinces me to wear it anyway.
The stage is filled with an array of old-fashioned instruments: accordions, a cello, even a saw. Soon, the inappropriately named Hellblinki Sextet (made up of half as many members as one would expect) take the stage and run through a high-energy gypsy punk cabaret. Front-man and founder Andrew Benjamin and the wickedly cute Valerie Meiss (who looks like Amanda Fucking Palmer’s adorable little sister), supported by rhythm-guitarist JonPaul Hess, warble their way through songs covering disparate topics ranging from Daleks (“I Am”) to the current revolution of Occupy Wall Street. They wind up with the southern-rockin’ “Don’t Go Down to the Woods Tonight.” I get the distinct feeling there’s a bad moon on the rise.
Next up is This Way to the Egress. With a name straight out of PT Barnum’s tricksy vernacular––he reportedly posted signs with this phrase to encourage people to keep moving to the exit, thinking they were going to see an exhibit called the Egress, not just the great outdoors––they are part circus vaudevillians, part trickster brats. With the adorably grinning M@ pounding on the drums, the beautiful Sarah on keys and vocals, and Taylor shredding through his accordion (and two or three more members whose names I’m not sure of, on ukulele, saw, horn and god knows what else), they put on an absolutely amazing dark cabaret performance worthy of Tom Waits or the TV show Carnivale. A few people even danced––including Voltaire––and the crowd loved them.
After a short break (and another $30 out of my pocket for a CD from each opener), the crowd starts taking their places for the headliner. Several of the members of the opening bands climb up onto the stage again and then, without much ado (except for me accidentally tripping him up with my camera bag, ugh), Voltaire joins them and the show is underway.
It’s exactly what I’ve come to expect ––high-energy songs covering the range of Voltaire’s work, punctuated by his characteristic amusing observations and anecdotes between each song. After launching into the hilarious tongue-twister “Death Death (Devil, Devil, Devil, Devil, Evil, Evil, Evil, Evil Song)” he thanks everyone for not just sitting home in their steampunk underwear, and then the band plays the witty “Brains!” from Cartoon Network’s The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, getting the audience to chime in on every utterance of “Brains” (of which there are many). He tells us the story of how a fan named the latest album, Riding a Black Unicorn Down the Side of an Erupting Volcano While Drinking from a Chalice Filled with the Laughter of Small Children! and is his usual charming self.
The crowd eats it up, laughing constantly, behaving exactly like goths aren’t supposed to––and do when they are with their own. During the interludes, Voltaire comes across as the successor to Bill Hicks, wryly commenting on politics, the thumping music coming from upstairs, poking fun at himself (“‘Face raper’ is the only thing I could think of that would rhyme with ‘straight razor!’”) and at the universal goth experience of taking photos in graveyards. The band had a great time, too, tossing in musical commentary on some of his stories, and the few members of the opening acts who were not on stage got into the show, dancing and singing along from the merchandise table.
After about 45 minutes, the band launched the wildly popular “When You’re Evil,” and the entire audience bounced up and down like children who’ve had way too much sugar, and with that, the show was over. All the band members stuck around to sell CDs, sign things and chat, and I had a great conversation with Andrew from Hellblinki about the protests. Finally, after Voltaire told my boyfriends and I a hilarious story about The Venture Brothers, it was time to bid them all a good night and head home, laughing (in that obligatory gloomy goth fashion; mustn’t spoil the mystique!) all the way.
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