David Bowie is: Infestation

A month before my fifteenth birthday, I saw David Bowie’s Glass Spider Tour with my mother at Madison Square Garden.  She came with me because I wasn’t allowed to go to concerts alone then, and because she loved him.  In fact, my mother loved David Bowie so much, she forbid my father to come with us, lest he be uncomfortable with her excitement.

The Glass Spider Tour and the album it was in support of, Never Let Me Down, aren’t terribly well-reviewed or considered significant in the canon of Bowie’s work, and I knew that, even then, holding my breath for the older songs – like “Time” and “Heroes” — I had fallen in love with largely because they were on the cheapest cassettes for sale at Tower Records.

But the show had no less mesmerizing impact on me for all that, in large part because of the work done by choreographer Toni Basil and a character danced by Melissa Hurley, who, during “Bang Bang” is seemingly plucked out of the audience.  Chosen, she then rejects Bowie; then once he is chastened, goes after him, and leads him in something resembling a tango.

While the ruse was obvious, and I had even read about the moment in a music magazine in advance of the show, it still had the barest tinge and hope of authenticity to me. After all, I was a teenager and there was no mainstream commercial Internet at the time, so I had not read a description of this exact moment appearing night after night as a reminder that I would never be that girl.  With my dark curly hair, a dress at home that looked like the performer’s, and too many hours spent in dance classes, I had a tiny bit of hope, that one day….

I’ve had a lot of daydreams though, and that one faded faster than many it seems.  Certainly,  it was something long forgotten by the time I went to the David Bowie is exhibit at the Victoria & Albert in London last month and had what is certainly the most extraordinary museum visit I have ever experienced.

Even as the exhibit is far too crowded (it is sold out; without advance planning, the only way to get in at this point is to have, borrow, or purchase the same day a year long membership to the V&A) and chaotic in its isolation (as a guest you wear headphones for most of the journey that trigger music and interviews to scatter across your ears depending where you are in the exhibit) it is a trove of memory, evidence and technique that spans Bowie’s history and puts tangibility to details you may only have heard in passing: Diamond Dogs was supposed to be a stage musical; he performed on SNL with Klaus Nomi; he uses a computer program that cuts up sentences from other sources into his song lyrics.

This archive of sketches, sound and video clips, costumes, and artifacts, however, is not actually the highlight of the exhibit.  Rather, it’s the other people there with you.

The structure of the exhibit renders nearly everyone completely silent.  If they make sound, it is unlikely that you will hear them.  Yet, sometimes I caught a random peel of laughter, or looked to my left or right and found someone staring open-mouthed at the video of a performance video of “Boys Keep Swinging.”  Then, unavoidably, I was put in mind of Velvet Goldmine when the character of Arthur fantasizes about pointing at a television performance of the film’s Bowie avatar Brian Slade and shouting, “That’s me Ma!  That’s me!”

But the true magic is in he penultimate moment of David Bowie is that leads viewers into a large, multistory room coated in video monitors.  There are some exhibits scattered throughout this space, but they are secondary to the visual and auditory display and the many seating areas provided finally for guests.

Everyone stares up, mouths open yet again (we are tiny birds, there to receive this very fundamental piece of pop-culture nourishment and benediction; after all, one of the exhibits main arguments is that Bowie is in everything, including us).  Eventually, people realize the sound is no longer coming through their headphones, but is piped into the room directly, and the isolation of the exhibit structure has gives way to the communal concert experience.

A woman near me laughed at the wonder of it, and a security guard tried to shush her, but the crowd told him no.  A man to my left had tears tracking down his cheeks.  I had to look away from a monitor close to the floor that showed 9/11 footage during a performance of “Heroes,” which for me in high school was a song about how I felt I would never be loved.  Later I had to sit down as the whole of the room lit up with that long-forgotten performance of “Bang Bang” on The Glass Spider tour.

Exiting the exhibit one is given the proof, no longer needed, that David Bowie is in all of us.  Photos of artists who have borrowed, begged, and stolen from Bowie’s various incarnations and looks, or even echoed him seemingly accidentally and disturbingly (Tilda Swinton must be noted, especially), line three walls.  A periodic element chart of figures relevant, some as influence and some as influenced, is painted on the desperately meaningful fourth. Sometimes I would see names – Harvey Milk – and have to look away.

David Bowie is argues aggressively that Bowie’s presence, if not his work itself, is necessarily political in our cultures, and personal in the way that it does not just inspire, but infests.  It reminded me of the relief I felt as little more than a child to see portrayals of desire and loss and otherness that I was entitled to access in private amongst the public.

And it reminded me that there are some strange gems in the Bowie’s canon, not just in the truly great albums (Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, and the Berlin triptych), but in the lesser ones.  In fact, I walked out of David Bowie is with an obsessive need to revisit Never Let Me Down, and while I (re)discovered an album with many legitimately forgettable tracks and an excessive abuse of the signature-80s unnecessary sax solo, I also found in it the feminine counterpart to Diamond Dogs through “Bang Bang” and the rather spectacular “Time Will Crawl” that clearly returns us to the unresolved narratives of Hunger City.

David Bowie is runs through August 11 at the Victoria and Albert in London.

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Nick Cave: A laying on of hands

(For the uninitiated, Nick Cave sings a lot of songs about murder, religion, and violence (often against women). His lyrics at times contain slurs, and his themes are often disturbing. In light of that, advance warning that this may not be the blog post for you).

The holidays have been a little funny this year, although in some ways, they always are: My mother is Jewish and my father tends to rotate through religions biannually and is the type of guy who has self-published his own version of the Bible. Combine this with two family birthdays in April (my father’s and my partner’s) and it can get more than a little wacky pretty quickly. Trust me, when Easter Sunday and the first day of Passover are the same day and the birthday of your dad who writes poetry in the voice of Jesus, things get a little intense and a lot weird.

This year, though, the holidays got cancelled.  A pipe burst in my parents’ apartment, flooding the entire space with about 6 inches of boiling water. This took down a huge part of a wall, destroyed the flooring, and resulted in significant property damage.  It was also a re-lived trauma; something similar happened about 35 years ago in which most of my mother’s artwork was destroyed.  She works in water color, my father in oils, so his work was fine.

it suffices to say, Passover got cancelled this year, and Easter was already off the table because I would be in the air at the start of a business trip.

But for all that I attempt to distance myself from some aspects of them, I am a product of my eccentric family and its religious shenanigans (I haven’t mentioned other conversions, various conversants with Jesus, or my late cousin who joined a cult which allowed her only to dress in red), and so the season and I didn’t quite pass each other by.

I’ve seen Nick Cave in concert dozens of times.  The first was about 25 years ago, in high school.  He was so drunk or high, that not only could he not remember the words to his own songs, and not only could he not read the words to his own songs successfully off of a piece of paper, he couldn’t even sit on the stool from whence he was trying to do this without falling off of it. 

I didn’t know what to think of it, and I suppose on some level, I didn’t care.  I had my freedom for a night in New York without lying for a change, and that was enough.

But despite that particular gig being the way it was, I didn’t lose interest in Nick Cave.  I’ve seen him with his band, The Bad Seeds; I’ve seen him solo, crooning as he noodled on a grand piano at Town Hall.  And I’ve always been mesmerized, by his jangly charisma, a sort of Neil Diamond spit up from the pits of hell to sing about religion and murder and drunks all taken out of some fictional, horrific, and supernatural Dust Bowl America.

So this past friday, I went to see Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds again, because I always do.  And while there are no terrible seats at The Beacon, I had terrible seats, up in the lodge, but I became thankful for them, nearly instantly.  Because when Cave took the stage, he crouched down, and beckoned the audience to him, cajolling them, praising them closer, telling them to ignore the security guards, come closer, come closer.

And, of course, eventually they did. 

When I was seventeen, and just a week or two into college, I walked up to Gaston Hall at Georgetown University in a rainstorm to see Cave play.  A lot of things happened that day and night, but one of them was that same beckoning.  And I was close to the front, so when he called, I was right there, and in fact watched half the show sat on the lip of the stage and twisted ’round to see him.  He sang “Hey Joe” just inches from my face, into my eyes, long fingers touching my hair.

To see him work that particular magic — and horror, there’s a lot of horror at Nick Cave shows — on Friday night was a moment come full circle.  For every gentle caress as he sang of murder or men who make bets with the Devil and win, there was also his palm smacking onto the top of someone’s head, a laying on of hands as they vibrated under him to the music.

I watched this for two hours, a hand over my mouth smiling into it, as Cave performed this ritual on dozens of fans, going out into the crowd at one point and saying no to those who would try for the moment twice.  And it wasn’t just girls this time, not like it was back in 1990, and I was grateful for it, because this a man whose songs I feel I can never recommend to anyone because they often contain lines like “a fag in a whalebone corset draping his dick across my face.”  Those lines, for the record, usually aren’t even the ones most likely to upset or offend; Cave has a lot of seven-minute story songs, and they are all a long dark road. 

In all these years nothing about his songs has really changed; some are slower, some are almost gentle; but it’s still a body of work that’s often about dead prostitutes (and lately mermaids, actually, but I think that’s just a one-album phase). The songs remain dark, unsavory, lit by a strange religiosity, and desperately romantic.

At Friday’s show Cave sang a lot of older ones I didn’t expect to hear: “Papa Won’t Leave You Henry” (from which the previously quoted line comes), “Deanna” (which is only particularly harrowing if you’ve heard him tell its backstory), “The Mercy Seat” (performed in the voice of a convict as he is being executed in the eletric chair), “The Weeping Song” (performed solo now that Blixa Bargeld is no longer in the band, a gesture I appreciate, even though the song, which tells the difference between children’s tears and adult sorrow, was always better as a duet), “The Ship Song” (perhaps the most shattering love song I have ever heard), “Tupelo” (which, clearly, it’s just easier if I link to), and “From Her to Eternity” (the night’s closest moment to Cave’s original punk days, but remarkably listenable to all the same).

And amongst all of this, Cave did it with a string section and a children’s choir from Harlem. 

Now, there are a lot of dead and weeping children in Cave’s songs; having children’s voices support many of those songs (even if the truly violent and disturbing stuff was saved for when they were off stage) was brilliant and weird and that possible step too far that a performer with his roots in punk should generally provide.

Even so, a man that I have seen give pretty much every type and quality of concert imaginable, managed to surprise me and discomfort me all over again.  Which is, of course, why I keep coming back.

Somewhere in there, as the people around me whispered about how they wished they were down on the floor where Cave was still beckoning and cajoling between verses and laying on hands during, I realized that nearly everything I’ve ever thought about what it means to be chosen, and the burden of that, comes from being one of those people on the floor as a teen. 

How silly, how wasteful, how secret and lovely, it seemed to me all at once. 

The children lifted their voices again, Cave referenced a great and terrible God with incredibly elusive mercy, and I thought about the email I would write to my parents about seeing the show, like this, on Good Friday of all days, knowing my father might well be offended and my mother vociferously jealous.

After and leaving, I overheard two conversations: One from a woman who had clearly seen Cave before and had taken her seemingly new boyfriend in the concert.  She was relieved that he had liked it.  The other, two people, probably around ten years younger than me who’d never seen Cave before. They were in that wow, what was that, wow place some of us go to after really good concerts.  I followed them to the subway, listening to them try to talk about the way Cave touches his audience as if they are customer and pilgrims.  They wondered if the people in the audience who got that close wanted to fuck him or wanted to be healed.

I shook my head to myself, but said nothing.  But 23 years ago when Nick Cave sang “Hey Joe” to me I stared him right in the eye and sung along when I could.  It wasn’t anything but a dare in my pretty little seventeen-year-old head, and that went both ways.

There aren’t a lot of interactions a person can have with someone we put on a stage, we put on a pedestal, we insert into a narrative that says we’re practically obligated to desire them, where you get to be that equal and that ferocious, no matter how much it looks, under those long fingers, like something else.

an stomach the themes of Cave’s work, it’s a never, ever miss gig.

Kinkstarter II: The 7 Deadly Virtues

It’s baaaaImageaack!

Please join us for an evening of cabaret as Dogboy & Justine alumni and friends once again bring Broadway to its knees by putting a naughty, kinky twist on musical theater classics with Kinkstarter II: The 7 Deadly Virtues.

The event will be at the historic Stonewall Inn on Monday, March 18, 2013 at 9pm. The Stonewall Inn is located at 53 Christopher Street in New York City.

There’s no cover and a two drink minimum for this event as we pass the hat in support of Dogboy & Justine‘s ongoing development.

Last time we did this it involved a BDSM striptease version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and the mouse was a dude.  Do you really need more incentive?

Sing Out, Raise Hope: unabashed swooning over Whiffenpoofs ahead

Last night Patty and I went to the “Sing Out, Raise Hope” benefit for The Trevor Project and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, which featured the Yale Whiffenpoofs (and yeah, yeah, Darren Criss, we’ll get to that later) and a capella groups from Harvard and Princeton.

It was a bit of a strange experience because of how many different constituencies were present with their own inside jokes and knowledge. The Yale people were doing their Yale thing. The fandom people were doing their fandom thing. Every performer had to explain something to the audience that part of the audience already knew very, very well, while the rest of the audience remained completely boggled even after an explanation. And while that was sort of awkward, it also made the whole thing sort of chill and casual and feeling very family for something in a big venue.

That said, it’s hard provide a single hook review of a set of things that didn’t always fit together well. And then there’s the fact that the Whiffenpoofs are just this epic step above the very pleasant but nothing to write home about groups from Princeton (the Nassoons) and Harvard (the Krokodillos), and I pretty much felt bad for everyone who had to share the stage with them over the course of the event.

By their second song of the night, all I wanted for rest of the evening was to bask in the pure awesome that was John Yi. He and his fabulous hair need to actually be “On Broadway” immediately. Of course, since the Whiffenpoofs website informs us that he’s also an economics major, one imagines he’ll either be saving the world or destroying it at any moment instead. Alas.

Also, alas, there were a lot of other things on the evening’s program, including Allison Williams, who had the deeply unenviable task of being the only female performer on the stage. She, and the jazz trio she did most of her songs with, were quite good and I’d love to hear them in a more intimate environment, but the arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” she did with the Whiffenpoofs really put me off, and I had trouble getting back on board. Somehow, it managed to strip the bite from the song, which, I’ll confess, I’ve always preferred as a masculine narrative and the occasion seemed an odd one to switch that up at.

When Darren Criss joined the show after intermission, it was, expectedly to “Teenage Dream.” Now, here’s a thing — I love what Glee did with the song (that arrangement, and the backing vocals, by the way, are from the Tufts Beelzebubs); I love what Darren Criss does with the song at his solo shows (I find it gutting, and love that it plays on multiple levels); and I have now fallen hard the Whiffenpoofs. But trying to smush all those things together live with an awkward backing track and not exactly anything resembling a full rehearsal? Terrible, terrible plan, and the less said the better.

That said, Criss’s voice sounded stronger than it has recently and we got to hear a few things live (like “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” as a comedy duet with surprise guest Brad Ellis) that I’m sure none of us in the audience expected. The performance he did with his brother (Chuck Criss of Freelance Whales) of Bob Dylan’s “New Morning” was gorgeous and I liked it better than the recording (which, btw, is on Chimes of Freedom, a Dylan tribute album to benefit Amnesty International).

We also got treated to Criss’s between song banter, which rambled more than usual and felt weird in a space where it was pretty much certain large chunks of the audience were not predisposed to be charmed by it. Also, seriously? The only other performer I’ve ever seen forget lyrics while reading them off a piece of paper or screen right in front of him? Nick Cave. Talk about comparisons I never thought I would make. On the other hand, who can blame the guy? Apparently he’d just gotten off a plane and certainly sleeps even less than I do.

Anyway, fun thing. Good causes. Videos of the whole affair are all over Tumblr and YouTube for the curious (if anyone got the Whiffenpoofs doing “Midnight Train to Georgia,” please let me know). Me? Totally making a point to see more Whiffenpoofs gigs.

Team Starkid (and friends!): Internet memes go to Vegas

One day, Las Vegas musical reviews will all be things we can blame on the Internet. When that happens (i.e., when we’re all old), Team Starkid will probably be the daily 4pm show at some casino just off the strip. And, in that distant future, whatever it is that they are (and “a musical-theater comedy troupe perhaps best known for a spoof musical of Harry Potter and a show about dicks” is still probably the simplest of the vaguely accurate answers available), might actually make some easy-to-explain sense.

Until then, however, it’s probably just best to say that Team Starkid means a hell of a lot to a lot of people, most of whom seem to be between the ages of 14 and 20. And while the group has talent, drive, and some composers who absolutely know how to write a song you can’t resist (even when you very much want to), they really are the last thing on earth you ever expect to see at Irving Plaza or the Gramercy Theater.

They’re not a rock band; they need an editor; not all their performers are at all suited to a venue of that type or scale; and they tend to under-utilize their talented women despite having a legion of female fans and a lot of songs that are designed to, and I think actually do, make young girls feel good about themselves.

But really, Team Starkid’s fans (who are known as Starkids themselves, if you weren’t confused enough already) don’t care about any of that. And neither do their detractors. The whole thing seems to be one of those things that you either have receptor sites for or you don’t, and so the quality details largely just don’t matter.

I pretty much don’t have those receptor sites, and yet, catchy, catchy, catchy, and I may have “Boy Toy” stuck in my head for the rest of my natural existence (which is unfortunate as there are some visuals from the show burned into my brain to go along with that I didn’t need at all; thank you, Joey Richter).

But that lack of receptor sites didn’t stop me from spending all weekend in a cloud of Team Starkid festivities. After not being able to get tickets for a single show (and I wanted in for the Charlene Kaye, who was probably best served of all the performers by the big venue, and Darren Criss factors), I wound up with tickets to all three shows in the NYC-area and an assortment of friends to hang out with — some were in from out of town for the event, while others were dutiful journalists on the job. As a bunch of people largely in our 30s, I think a lot of us guiltily felt a bit too knowing at times to really want to relinquish ourselves to the experience.

And yet….

The thing about Team Starkid that is super weird for me, is that for the true fans, it’s this incredibly meaningful and joyous thing and the live shows over the last month have just been an amplification of that. But for me the whole thing was actually a little bit melancholy.

That may be, to a certain extent, my natural temperament, but listening to Starkid Meredith Stepien explain, before launching into “Coolest Girl in the World” that one day everyone in the audience would find their “weirdos and magical Darren Crisses too” just kind of made me sad. At fifteen, I wouldn’t have believed her, and I wondered if any of the girls in the audience she was talking to did either.

But I suspect they did. Starkids (the fans) are happy, or at least seem to try hard to be happy. I was sort of a ball of despair at their age, and so, observing their experiences at these shows (for fuck’s sake there was a bubble machine and a streamer cannon) is super weird for me, but I’m certainly glad for them.

Ultimately, the show was a lot of fun, even if it dragged hard in the middle for someone who wasn’t fully committed. Certainly, it was interesting as an event. At three hours in length for the Saturday shows, and four on Sunday — thanks to the presence of The Gregory Brothers, the folks that bring you Auto Tune the News, and a mini-set by Criss — nothing about the experience was about tight narrative. Rather, it was a collection of Internet memes, random hopefulness, in-jokes, and short attention span theater in which everything has meaning, nothing is deadly serious, and everything feels…. mostly really good.

For me, who first started using the Internet back in 1990, Team Starkid is probably most interesting as another step in legitimizing the Internet as a place where things happen and where real connections are forged. It’s an idea that seems obvious to most long-time Internet users and those who have grown up with the technology. But it’s one people outside the digital generation are often suspicious of, questioning whether the friends, creations, and ideas formed and explored here matter.

If Team Starkid can sell out a 21-show tour in minutes (seriously, getting tickets for this was hard) and The Gregory Brothers can have me singing the turtle fence song in my kitchen days later, and one day there won’t be anything weird about either of those things? Well, that’s a paradigm shift worth noting.

Ultimately, though, the shows turned me introspective towards the moments in which I was young enough for all my friendships to be easy and desperately intense. I had no idea what college would be and was just sure that a chosen family was waiting for me, easy and instant. It made me wish a little bit that I could go back to that moment and have the experiences of my teens and twenties with a more open heart — and with a bit more wisdom and luck — than I actually did.

This, of course, was aided and abetted by Criss’s more wrenching moments on stage (“Home” on Saturday and the whole of his mini-set on Sunday), which reminded me of just how good he is at selling exactly what I’m buying. As a performer he breaks my heart even when my brain is screaming at me about what a damn savvy marketer he is. It’s a little funny, and probably why I’m never more interested by what he’s got on offer than when he’s performing songs either explicitly about fame and fannishness (“Sami” and “Sophomore”) or arguably repurposed to be about same (“Teenage Dream”, “Home”, “When You Wish Upon a Star”).

For most of the audience, there’s a damn good chance that Team Starkid and their very many friends was their first concert experience. I hope they look back at it fondly when they’re checking out that review in Vegas in thirty years. Certainly, I suspect it’ll all make more sense in the narrative of their lives than my own first concert experiences, which included The Eurythmics (so cool, but I was nine and my parents were just dragging me along so they could go), Starship (I know, I know), and A-ha for my 13th birthday.

Even when they were happening, I knew those shows had no particular place in the story of me; I suspect for Starkids the experience of seeing this tour has been entirely different and will, actually, probably matter a great deal to their personal stories, at least for a little while.

I hope so.

It seems like a pretty neat damn thing to actually have receptor sites for.

The incredibly weird world of Kitty Perry and her dancing gingerbread men

It’s nearly impossible to write a review of a Katy Perry show and not somehow call it, or her, a teenage dream. But even if the struggle to avoid that is awkward (as it surely is here), it has to be noted, because it speaks to the marketing genius that is the Katy Perry phenomenon: you can’t talk about what she’s selling without helping her sell what she’s talking about.

For me, who knew about four of her songs definitively going into this (“Teenage Dream,” “Firework” and “Last Friday Night,” which were each brought into my life by Glee; and “I Kissed a Girl” who was brought in my life by virtue of being queer and appalled), I really had no idea what to expect. But I had 20 hours in London, and the trip really needed to be about something other than curry and grocery shopping.

So, at the last minute (like, sitting in the Zurich airport last minute), I bought a ticket to the Katy Perry show. Assuming my plane landed on time, I could get to my hotel, shower, change, go to Picadilly to pick the ticket up, and head out to the 02. Half of my Twitter friends said it would be no problem, and half of them cackled at the thought of me trying to dodge crowds in central London on a Saturday in those weird hours no one knows whether to call afternoon or evening.

It was, shall we say, an ordeal. And if I never have to set foot in the Trocadero again, it will be too soon. The Seatwave people were very nice though, and dear lord, for the cheapest seat I could get at the last minute, it was perfect: dead center, lower tier (the 107 block for those who know the 02), just slightly higher than the stage. I saw David Bowie on the Glass Spider tour at Madison Square Garden with seats like that with my mom when I was in high school, and sure, everything was really far away, but for scale and the sense of how bizarre it must be to perform for an arena, it couldn’t be beat. This was exactly the same.

So, here’s my teenage dream: as a teenager, I was really obsessed with London. Anglophilia, boring, I know. But most of the music I listened to was British, and I bought expensive magazines about British music and dreamed of the all-night night life there without parents to sneak away from. When I got older, it wasn’t that important anymore, but it still twinged in my heart a little when friends would come back from trips and talk about all sorts of not entirely appropriate things they did stay awake at dance parties lasting not until 4am or 6am, but 9am or noon.

Even in a mess of trips to London in the last year or so (five now) and with the Anglophilia still going embarrassingly strong (even if it’s more Doctor Who than the club scene now), I’ve still never been dancing there. To be frank, I’m probably just a little (okay, a lot) intimidated.

But one of Perry’s opening acts on this tour is a DJ, and watching the huge floor crowd move together, arms in the air, I knew that whether it was travel exhaustion, missing Patty, or just memories of the girl I wanted to be when I was fourteen (I wrote to a boy from the pen pal section of one of those music magazines, because we liked all the same bands; he was 18 and in the military, and when the letter came from whatever British base he was stationed at, I got in a world of trouble because he didn’t care about music, my parents said, and I wasn’t allowed to have British music magazines after that), this show was somehow going to hit all my emotional buttons.

After an introductory video narrative that was seven parts fairy tale, two parts Alice in Wonderland and 1 part Sweeney Todd that later wound loosely through the entire show, Perry opened with “Teenage Dream.” To say I wasn’t ready for the glitter-drenched dancers who weren’t doing much more than the Warblers’ step-touching (don’t worry, they redeemed themselves later) and parading around a Candyland set as Katy fell down the rabbit hole crawled through her flat’s cat-door in search of her missing Kitty (we’ll get back to Kitty, so hold that thought), would be vastly understating the case. I laughed my head off. It was delightful. And weird.

And I kept laughing, even if it was sometimes deeply awkward. “Peacock” was already a dirty song, but Perry in a remote controlled tail that could pop up and down and her and a bunch of dancers really, really, bobbing their heads over their microphones in a move that did, remarkably, read quite clearly as fellatio all the way to the back of the arena, made it a really dirty song, and I was sitting next to a nine-year-old and her really bored dad. The kid kept sneaking glances at me, wondering, I guess, either why I was there alone, or if I knew what the song was about. Oh yes, honey, I so do.

But really, when “Peacock” isn’t the most absurd moment of the night, you’re onto something. At various points the stage show also involved assaultive mimes; a slot machine named Slot (“Slot not Slut!”); girls spinning on circus contraptions in a manner that was oddly evocative of a Victoria’s Secret ad; giant slabs of cartoon meat; and the return of Kitty (after Kitty was found, then blended with Katy into Kitty Perry, then unblended with Katy and rescued) as a dancer in a full fur suit.

With all that weirdness (and with Perry floating over the crowd on a tiny, tiny cloud named Cloudy at one point), it would be easy to actually avoid talking about the particular sexuality Perry was selling, but when “I Kissed a Girl” was a sultry and angry followup to her inviting a shirtless boy on stage, critiquing his figure, distracting him so she could plant a kiss on his cheek without him going for her lips and then shoving him off-stage, I got interested fast.

Because sure, sex is just as much a product as Katy Perry herselves (that’s Perry the character in the performance narrative as well as Perry the public persona of the performer in question). But the degree to which the sexuality wasn’t unintelligent, excessively coy (oh, it was coy, all right, but with a delighted eye-roll from her) or about her being at anyone’s mercy was startling.

I won’t say it was empowering, because when it comes to the lives of women and talking about how we feel about sex, the phrase is so overplayed I’m no longer sure what it means. But I will say I found it hot, because it seemed like it was happening entirely for her own amusement and that our amusement was merely a secondary good. I think it was how I was supposed to feel about Madonna in the 80s but didn’t; and despite all the glitter and fluffy short skirts, on Saturday night all I could think was (is this blasphemy?) Annie Lennox.

Audience participation wasn’t limited to the boys, either. At another point in the show, a hoard of people were dragged up on stage. They ranged in age from young, young girls (like aged six), to a mixed-gender group of folks in their teens and 20s. It was hard to feel like my heart wasn’t bursting for them, because it doesn’t mean anything, but they’ll ride that high, and that story, for a long time. What a way to get chosen.

When they were chased off the stage at the end of the song, Perry held one girl behind and asked if she had a camera. The girl, it turned out, didn’t speak English, but with pantomime they figured it out, and Perry snapped a picture of them together (so it really happened!). Then, as it was time for her to go, her purse up-ended! So there Perry was, down on the floor with this girl in front of 15,000 people, laughing and helping her pick up her money.

It turns out, of course, that I knew more Perry songs than I realized, including “Hot and Cold,” which I’ve always really liked, and “California Gurls,” which closed the show as Perry sprayed the crowd with an incredibly phallic looking candy-cane striped water-gun as a kick-line of gingerbread men danced behind her (she’d found her true love, Baker’s Boy, you see) and beach balls bounced around the audience.

But the show’s emotional highlight, perhaps predictably, was “Firework,” which, truthfully, is one of those songs I don’t want to love, but apparently excites my brain’s pattern recognition systems in a way that means I can’t resist it. Of course, I had a nine-year-old on one side of me and some teen girls in hijab on the other and a group of gay men in their 40s in front of me and we were all singing along, as loud as we could, staring straight ahead, lost in what seemed very private, if perhaps, non-specific moments. Yes, there were tears, and no, they did not belong to the nine-year-old.

So was I a Katy Perry fan walking into this? No, I was bored and felt like doing something ridiculous. And I’m not sure I walked out one either; I don’t enjoy her ballads, and I thought the narrative that strung the show together (and allowed for her constant awesome costume changes) was too incoherent.

Certainly, “I Kissed a Girl” still annoys me, even if the tonality of it at Saturday’s performance nearly changed my feelings about it and involved some lesbian tango action. In fact, as a side note, I can’t stop being interested in what happens to Perry’s songs when they are performed as if they are something other than vapid pop; Darren Criss’s weird, melancholy live version of “Teenage Dream” certainly hasn’t stopped fascinating me, and I think there’s a certain richness that could probably be added to a lot of Perry’s songs (and, okay, really any random pop if we’re being fair) with some deftly applied emotion and tempo changes.

But, one thing I am sure of, is that I am now a huge fan of the Katy Perry experience, from the large number of fans cosplaying as her in both the “to find your true love wear the blue wig” and the “Last Friday Night” 80s teen with head-gear versions, to the intensely diverse audience that I can’t blame just on London.

All of it put me in mind, more than once, of Absolute Beginners, which is a very weird 80s movie musical about racial strife and the construction of the teenager as a marketing demographic in late 50s London. It features David Bowie as an evil ad executive tap-dancing on a giant typewriter. It’s both amazing and awful, but more than that, is just weird (and, like Perry’s show, it’s the weird that makes it work).

Anyway, Katy Perry — I’d go again in a second. And if her music even faintly amuses you, you might want to too.