The Return of Siouxsie Sioux
by Tony Phillips
“Although I’m fussy,” admits Goth legend Siouxsie Sioux, “I’m not restricted by gender.” It’s the understatement of the decade. Before sweeping into New York for a three-night stand — postponed for almost the entire summer — at B.B. King’s intimate Times Square hang, there was much about this tour to give even the die-hard fat girls in black filing into the venue pause. First of all, there was that postponement, attributed by Siouxsie to an illness she picked up while kicking cigarettes. And then there’s the smoking, itself, and how a vocalist as obsessed with “the instrument” as Siouxsie ever picked up a fag in the first place. But she’s got more to say about fags, seeing as it’s come up. “I always get on with men who have a female side,” Sioux explains, “whether they are straight or gay or whatever. I don’t connect with people who are afraid of other people’s sexuality. I just don’t feel comfortable with that because ultimately they’re not comfortable with themselves. I just like to get close and intimate with people.” So let’s forgive her a self-destructive habit or two, especially since she’s trying to get the monkey off her back. Again.
A tad more unforgivable is the VH1 sponsorship. Even Clear Channel would have gone down easier, but VH1? The stomping ground of Sheryl Crow and Celine Dion? Surely this was some kind of joke. The VH1 website describes The Banshees as “an abrasive, primitive art-punk band” that evolved into “a stylish, sophisticated unit which even notched a left-field Top 40 hit,” 1991’s “Kiss Them For Me.” VH1 chronicles ’91 as Sioux’ big year, having inaugurated Lollapalooza, married her drummer and released the Banshees most commercially successful album, Superstition, that year. They trace The Banshees’ family tree with limbs extending into The Sex Pistols, The Cure, even avant-garde Velvet Underground founder John Cale before finally pulping the group mid-90s. They list a birth date that would make Sioux 46-years-old today, although I’ve seen various dates that could make her as young as a newly-minted 45. Most dates agree on Gemini — “flexible, flirty, inventive” — but VH1 goes so far as to reveal a birth name of Susan Dallion. People, there are rules here! But according to Sioux, they’re the only music channel that still plays music. Right she is, it’s just the only music they play is Celine and Sheryl. But who cares? A Brit misstep in the wiles of the corporate American music machine. Where’s Nia Peebles when you need her? And it’s not exactly as if the channel is building Sioux a coliseum in Las Vegas. Although, the thought of it! Step aside naughty bits Cirque du Soleil. And at least she spelled VH1 on the poster in a way sure to deliver aneurisms to the suits at MTV Networks.
Still, there’s that poster: “An Evening With Siouxsie.” Seeing it reinforced outside B.B. King’s, pared down to simply “SIOUXSIE” in red block letters splashed across the marquee. Well, okay, sign me up, but what about Budgie: loyal Banshee, Creature and husband? Surely, some of these Goth kids piling out of taxis are here for Budgie. A gaggle of Asian girls are the latest to taxi up to the venue — they de-cab, clown car style — gotten-up in a patent leather policewoman fantasia. Think Gogo Yubari meets Sgt. Suzanne 'Pepper' Anderson. There are at least five of them in one cab. Perhaps the cabbie thought he was being taken in by the law. Their lone male escort wears pants of one leg black, the other royal purple. His bleached hair is braided up into a high ponytail that’s a clear hail to drumming wonder Budgie. Surely, he’s as perplexed with the marquee as I am, scanning it as he is for a sign, any sign, of his double-processed superhero. But again, let’s cut Siouxsie a break. The gig is officially billed, at least online, as “An Evening With Siouxsie: The Creatures & The Banshees” and promises to reach 25-years back in a repertoire that encompasses both bands for at least two hours of material and fun.
I bump into Benny Tarantini, director of Columbia Records PR, on his way into the venue. Columbia is, incidentally, not Siouxsie’s home. She’s got her own label now called, simply, Sioux Records. It’s Benny’s third night at B.B. King’s as well. He rattles off a quick rundown of the previous two evenings. “It’s a core set of songs,” he explains, “but then she switches it up with two or three old Banshee numbers.” Sunday’s one-night-only treat was “Christine.” Monday’s was a gem buried on one of the Batman soundtracks called “Face to Face.” Tonight’s turns out to her ode to that Goth staple Mt. Vesuvius entitled “Cities in Dust.” I admire the cheek of anyone willing to perform a song thusly titled in post-9/11 New York, but why not, we’ve already survived the Republicans. Benny tells me later that I lucked out as the last night was definitely the best. Tonight he’s emphatic about wardrobe. “It’s so much better than those pinstriped business suits and that mullet from that last tour. Oh my God, you have to get your hands on the DVD. You won’t believe it. At least there are feathers this time.” And with that, he makes his way inside.
We follow him in, and once past the mandatory bag check, we realize that, in addition to every faggot in New York being inside, it’s about ten thousand degrees in the venue. “The approaching unease, ninety-two degrees” indeed. Yet anyone who’s trying anything interesting on Manhattan’s beleaguered nightlife front has turned up. I’ve got Richard Move, one of the architects of Jackie 60 and Mother, on my arm. We spy Michael T. from the occasional Motherfucker parties. The Connie Girl is sitting with Britney Spears’ couturier David Dalrymple. And we’re not even looking around for bolded names. It’s too hot to starfuck; we’re just trying to get a drink. Connie’s got an eye patch on. Fierce, but she was stung by a bee. I ask David if he could ever imagine a cultural lurch that would have him donning a baby-tee for an evening with Britney some 25-years future and he just laughs, but nods in simpatico when I tell him that dressing for this evening found me fumbling around the back of my medicine cabinet for the black eye pencil. “She’s remarkably relevant,” he adds in a tone that suggests he thought about kohling-in his occipital ridge tonight as well.
Before I can add that she’d be equally adept in a ball gown fronting a twenty piece orchestra radio mic in hand — think Tori Amos performing for the Wellesley girls in Julia Roberts tanked last outing Mona Lisa Smile — as she would headlining an old-school European fetish ball, the lights go down. Ex-Kodo drummer Leonard Eto is banging a stand-up gong. There’s Budgie — Budgie!!! — also in full attack on his kit center stage. In fact, the stage is littered with drum kits. And finally, there she is, in a flowing red silk kimono, eyes blacked out and hair swept up into a forest of feathers. She’s jangling like those Japanese puppets Basil Twist designed for Paula Vogel’s last play and reminds me of the Geisha neighbor focus-grouped off Pee Wee’s Playhouse for frightening some of the children and giving the rest boners. She launches into “Around the World,” the second track from The Creatures’ latest album HAI! Siouxsie’s been wondering if the world is flat or round at least as long as “Desert Kisses” on 1980’s Kaleidoscope, but tonight her world begins and ends on the Asian continent.
There’s a flurry of costume change. Somehow Sioux goes from Imperial robes to Dietrich lapels and long white satin sleeves without leaving the stage and she’s suddenly into HAI!’s first single “Godzilla” with its anthemic lines “I never wanted a stupid doll, I used to swing a tomahawk, then I saw him and I was won: Godzilla-King Kong.” The crowd promptly loses its shit when she gets guttural on the “Godzilla-King Kong” lyric and they’re thanked at the end of this Creatures-heavy set with a curt “domo arigato.” Before the show, Siouxsie recalled the initial meeting of Budgie and Eto which provided the spark for HAI!’s travelogue through Tokyo’s Roppongi district and the ancient Shinto shrines and tranquil shores of Lake Ashi, all dappled by the gentle snowfall from Ikuru, Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 film. “I was enthralled as I watched the coming together of these two kindred spirits,” Siouxsie explains, “words and melodies came to me immediately but mindful of breaking the spell, I had to store my inspiration until we got back to France.” Budgie agrees. “The spirit of Japan has touched our souls and a new chapter in the story of The Creatures has begun.”
“She’s a fucking bitch,” a surly man next to me screams out as we return to final chapter of the concert which could be called Siouxsie Performs High Air Conditioning Drama. “She doesn’t care about her fans,” he cries out to no one in particular, “it’s all about her.” I wonder whom he supposes a night billed “An Evening with Siouxsie” should be about, but instead turn and offer, “Look, she’s English. They don’t have air conditioning.” In a way that feels abrupt, after only performing a few Banshee standards — “I Heard A Rumor” springs to mind as a standout — Sioux dons a pair of finger cymbals and announces “Kiss Them For Me” as their last song. She blames “the fucker in charge of the air conditioning” in a way that might have gotten him stung up in a town less sensitive to terrorist acts. And I know this is getting repetitive, but who can blame her? In as fine a voice as she was — she quit smoking for us, for Christ’s sake — we could sweat it out a bit.
At any rate, the onstage bitch act worked wonders and the air conditioning went off with a noticeable thud. Still not trusting it was down for good, Siouxsie returned draped in what I thought was a shawl until my date pointed out that it was a standard issue green room towel. She even wet her finger and tested the air like a Boy Scout before tearing into the most incredible encore set I’ve ever seen the band perform. Siouxsie accompanied most of the hits with her little dance jog and arm extensions that should require an on-stage air traffic controller. There were kicks as high as her shoulder showing off fierce rhinestoned heels. She began to sweat as a dirty roadhouse organ accompanied her throaty wails. After her “last song” scare, my notes become littered with lines like “Last song: Happy House” and “Last song: 2nd Floor” and even “Really last song: Spellbound.” I can scarcely believe she’s grinding on this way, yet when she touches down somewhere in Latin America and calls out “Adios and buenos noches,” we want more. Never one to disappoint, Sioux follows-up with a makeup tip via email the next day. “Always cleanse,” she writes, “and moisturize after!” I will, Siouxsie, I promise. Just as soon as I can get this black eyeliner off my face.