Review by Kevin Fletcher. All photos by Paul Green. Paul Green is producing a book of prints featuring Berlin’s burlesque night life.
Wednesday October 10th 2012 heralded another great event at the Bassy Cowboy Club with four music acts and three Burlesque artistes on one bill, for a Pinky’s Peepshow special cooperation with London’s Gypsy Hotel club night. A top quality Berlin based line-up showcased an unusual circus sideshow band from London, The Urban Voodoo Machine, where no musician stands still and the music and show just rolls over you in a continuous wave. Kevin Fletcher tells you what you missed:
During the evening you may well have found yourself standing next to a bearded, green-skinned zombie, a living-dead rock and roll teddy boy, a glitter-clad marching band majorette or a red-coated red-headed lady saxophonist. If you were lucky, you saw them all together in a New Orleans style, red and black-clad funeral procession, winding through the audience. In a solemn line, the Urban Voodoo Machine advanced to the stage and after a moment with their backs to the audience, exploded into action.
They started where they must have left off at their last gig, in full-scale finale mode, everyone in movement and instruments ablaze. The drummer turned out to be two and both battered away in visual synchronisation, while walking around the elongated “single” drum set. The guitarists surged backwards and forwards, with the three piece brass section running rings around everyone else. The stage was a riot of red, black and gold, with zombie green bits and glittery reflections, backing a perfectly played whirlwind opener.
With just two minutes gone and the drummers now standing on their drum stools and still keeping a perfect beat you had to ask yourself whether the band would be able to keep this up, which of course they did. Admittedly, the show slowed to mere gale force intensity before slipping to into storm warning mode, but there were always new show elements appearing and no one stopped still. Their music stayed a blend of double time, Mardi Gras march music, shot through with the “roll” out of rock and roll and some voodoo magic to boot. It was neither American nor a European take on things, but quite a unique blend. The trumpet reflected this, being played “Mexican” style, but with melodies cutting through more crisply and tighter. A defining instrument was the band’s Sousaphone, a marching band tuba, which wraps around the player’s body like a giant python. In her marching band uniform, the Urban Voodooist proved to be a snake charmer per excellence, not only providing perfectly audible bass marching beats, but doing all sorts of marching tricks to add to the band’s beguile.
With seven other front “men” backing him in action and vocals, the lead singer and guitarist still maintained his presence throughout, with a gravelly “early stage Tom Waits’ disease” voice. This also added to the band’s New Orleans / Cajun swamp feel, but without it being an American voice. Maybe it is a pre-olympics London, dockland swamp voice!
Without going into each performer further (Double Bass, Saxophone and 2nd Guitar), all were brilliant individually, adding just the right amount of show to the writhing whole. Also musically, the 8 individuals together create an impressive unique blend.
The band ended as they had continued from the start, bursting with show ideas and movement. In fact this was a compact version of the evening as whole, where 8 acts in total impressed with their professionalism, a common quirky style and idea-packed performances. This was a bumper edition of a typical Pinky’s Peepshow midweek show, with a master of ceremony, burlesque specials and bands and performers. The top Berlin line-up was in honour of the visiting Gypsy Hotel Club crew from London, to whom the Urban Voodoo machine belong and who create a regular event similar to Pinky’s Peepshow.
If it was a monster of a line-up, then Gypsy Hotel Club’s DJ Scratchy Sounds stitched this Frankenstein together. He took on the master of ceremony role and played a perfect set of entertaining dance numbers ranging from Hawaiian twang, through 50’s rock and roll to 1940’s swing. The first act up was Ria Gruen on accordion. She had an excellent and strong voice, delivering clearly in both English and German and exuding a pleasant calm and confident manner.
DJ Scratchy skilfully bridged a somewhat long time until Fez Wrecker’s Junkyard Jug Band finally filled the stage, probably because it took so long to round the musicians up from the surrounding party. Washboard, banjo, drums, Saxophone, double bass, a few others and Fez himself on guitar, all musicians kitted out 1920’s style and blending in with the sharp dressers and dizzy dames dotted about the audience, who make such events living art. Fez was joined on lead vocals by fellow American April Walz whose voice is simply Nashville gold. That girl belongs in Fort Knox. The band kept mostly mid-tempo which was refreshing and let the music breath, with the heavenly hillbilly / country style vocals floating out on top. The great atmosphere on stage lent the whole place an easy relaxed feel, a real party and not just a concert.
Things got shaken up a little later however, with the appearance of Miss Mopsy Meyers on stage. Creating new cocktails, this burlesque queen tastefully and gracefully danced her way through a few drinks before the final bottoms up and the proof as to why James Bond takes his drink shaken and not stirred. A glass act.
DJ Scratchy further kept up the 100% record of interesting and refreshin
g music without faltering once. A nice touch was the DJ-style spoken intro and outro to the bands. The breaks between acts could have been slightly shorter, so it was due time as Trinity Sarratt took to the stage for her solo act. For those of you who have not yet heard Trixie Train Wreck and her No Man Band, I would hurry up. Trixie (Trinity Sarrat) will never be lost to Berlin, but with her cultivated look and talent, we will soon only be able to see her between world tours. With a rock steady rhythm guitar strum and the round boom of her one woman band bass drum, Trixie poured out heartfelt country ballads, with an occasional rock and roll growl, just in case you might think its an angel singing. Catch her while you can.
The next DJ run up was to the Urban Voodoo Machine’s amazing performance told above. This was followed by two further burlesque specials from Lada Redstar and fire specialist Lucifire, which I left for the rest of the audience to enjoy by themselves. I know we cannot all take the next day off to allow us to see these late mid-week shows, but I highly recommend taking the risk of a heavy next day at work to check out the fantastic artistic quality on show at these events. This is what Berlin’s night life is really about, finding something different and something special, but where you can feel at home. You won’t be able to sleep on the next occasion of a Pinky’s Peepshow anyway, you’ll be worrying about what you might be missing, so give it a shot.
Kevin Fletcher, Berlin 2012