Article/Blog – Emilie Autumn in New York
New York, NY, Gramercy Theatre 02/18/2012
Before the cleaning up of Time Square, before TV and radio, before both World Wars and even before the turn of the 20th century, New York was not such a happening place to live. Where skyscrapers now stand, there once were gambling dens and whorehouses populated by girls snatched off train platforms and forced to become opium addicts. Beneath the sanitized version of U.S. history taught in grade school, the corrupt underbelly of New York is typically glossed over. But tonight, the Victorian era is conjured up again at the corner of East 23rd and Lexington as a line of people stretches around the block to see Emilie Autumn and co. perform sad tales of girls gone astray. With its antique design, the Gramercy Theatre seemed a fitting locale for this pack of maladjusted mistresses, and was filled nearly to capacity. The crowd was a mixture of working stiffs who fancy dressing up in Victorian clothes on weekends and lots of 15 year old little girls. After broadcasting nearly 10 minutes of forgotten gramophone recordings, the old theatre shakes with the boom of electronic bass.
As the glitchy intro of the song “4 O’Clock” plays, three scantily costumed female figures creep from behind a backlight screen to take positions on the stage. In the center of an enormous clock face, a distorted shadow appears, writhing and clawing. A beautifully tragic voice fills the theatre as Emilie Autumn emerges in a long pointed silver mask and a tail. As with any of her tours, the music of Emilie Autumn goes hand in glove with the theatrics. Backed by the vaudevillian troupe Bloody Crumpets (of Blessed Contessa, Pirate Captain Maggot, and Veronica Varlow), each song becomes its own chapter with the troupe holding up various props and acting out parts of the song. The music itself is a mixture of classical strings, harpsichords backed by electronic beats, and the occasional industrial noises.
Autumn’s elegant voice weaves from impassioned melody to tortured wails. Her trademark painted heart on the cheek is there but her violin playing is missing. With all the over-the-top theatrics on songs like “The Art of Suicide” and “Liar,” there is plenty of entertainment. The circus-like atmosphere on songs like “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “God Help Me” included aerial silk cloth suspension, singing on striped stilts, and mock swordplay. The track “Fight Like a Girl” is one of the more danceable songs of the night, like an ’80s power ballad reborn. Emilie’s torn clothes and mohawk bring a post-apocalyptic, almost cyberpunk feel to the otherwise Victorian/cabaret ambiance of the performance. “Time for Tea” is one of many feminist revenge songs of the night. Unlike most concerts with amps and synthesizers, the stage is decorated with tea tables and pastries and metal bars like in jail cell. The woeful “Take the Pill” is sung almost entirely from the confines of a wheelchair.
Emilie’s cautionary tales of innocence lost and impressionable virgins lured into a life of vice by silver-tongued men with evil intentions may take place in the Victorian era, but the message behind the songs is still relevant: The world exploits beautiful girls; when they are no longer needed, they will be medicated and thrown into an asylum. The harpsichord-only rendition of the famous “Misery Loves Company” showcases the raw talent of an artist at the height of her creative career.
Lüke Haughwout (Mechanical_Harvest)
Photographs by Mandi Martini (Mandi_Martini)