BWW Review: Lady Rizo's New Album INDIGO Plays Second Fiddle To Politics At Its Release Show At Joe's Pub
There is something about today's political climate that demands acknowledgment in almost every setting. Provided you can be certain that your opinion will be shared by most of the room, you will probably bring up something related to our president, his tweets, or your own concerns about one or both.
This poses a puzzle for performing artists who are putting up work that is not overtly political. Do you... overemphasize its political stance in your publicity materials? Argue that all bodies onstage are political and so your own choices in that arena makes your political stance as an artist clear? Or, if you are doing a concert with room for improvisation, do you steer your ongoing chitchat and/or monologue away from your set list and towards your candid thoughts and opinions on the matter?
Lady Rizo seemed to choose the last of these options during her INDIGO album release show at Joe's Pub on August 25. In her show RED, WHITE AND INDIGO this past March, she specifically took up what she calls her "love-hate relationship with America," and the theme of patriotism in our time. Her career as a whole has contained elements of vaudeville, cabaret, burlesque, and performance art, and has never shied away from making her politics apparent. In this light, the sharing of political views during a concert makes a sort of sense, but taking just this show at face value made her interpolation of political commentary seem forced and at times self-righteous.
On the one hand, the show was a fabulously good time. Spirited, glamorous, full of virtuoso vocal performances by Lady Rizo (aka Amelia Zirin-Brown), backup vocals by Christina Nicole Miller and Jack Fuller, and talented full band (Tony Jarvis on horn and guitar, Ben Candles on bass, Mike Gordon on drums, Danny Fox on piano, and Ben Yonas on keyboard). Lady Rizo's show(wo)manship was superb: she makes glamour look natural and like a quality intrinsic to her, instead of a mere style one puts on. She moved about the stage with ease, gesturing organically as she sang, and was keenly present with her audience, who on the whole really responded to her.
The contents of the album were varied, sometimes sad and sweet, sometimes upbeat, sometimes "trying to turn the tears into disco," as she said about the second song of the night ("Albatross"). On Lady Rizo's Bandcamp page, she writes that she sees this album "like walking into a grand house where every room holds a different feeling or mystery of the human emotional spectrum." This felt apt: her songs are personal, dealing with a variety of internal journeys through feelings of heartbreak ("Lilac Wine," "It's Alright"), seduction or lust ("Under," "Hit of You," "Gypsy in Me," "Bittersweet"), general unease or malaise ("Sometimes the Sky's Too Bright," with lyrics from the Dylan Thomas poem of the same name), and love ("Loving in Colour").
On the other hand, this show felt split between a show dedicated to the album's release, and an opportunity for Lady Rizo to grandstand about her feelings about "Cinnamon Hitler," as she referred to Mr. Trump.
As BWW's Troy Frisby wrote of RED, WHITE AND INDIGO, this show "was no bid for reaching across the aisle" either. She spent a fair amount of time poking fun at the populace who she places the blame on for getting us here: the less educated who, for example, believe that Jesus was an American (like her schoolmate growing up in rural Oregon, as she shared in an anecdote about halfway through her set).
On top of all this, the show split into yet another piece: album release, political commentary, and the work she is perhaps most known for, the "caburlesque," which she has created and molded into a style of performance all her own. This aspect only appeared in a few brief moments, but it was the part of the show I was most interested in. During an interlude during "Gypsy in Me," she did a seductive sort of dance with a rose, directed toward a (somewhat embarrassed) woman in the front row of the audience. Lady Rizo took the rose and brandished it seductively at her. Maintaining eye contact, she rubbed it into her own armpit with relish, before handing it to her. Taking the rose back shortly thereafter, Lady Rizo started licking individual petals, obviously meant as an imitation of giving a woman oral sex. But this only lasted a moment, before she bit off the entire batch of petals, taking it in her mouth and spewing the petals all over this same woman's face. I don't think it much of a stretch to assume she meant this to look like an ejaculation, like she was giving the woman a "money shot."
Throughout the show, Lady Rizo seemed to claim that by coming to see her, we were participating in an overtly political act: "If they [i.e. those less educated Trump supporters] are the poison, then you are the remedy." But how were we a remedy? Were we her personal remedy for how drained she feels by this nation? The remedy for our nation, because we chose to go to a show by an openly liberal artist? Because we're supporting The Public, which recently stood by their decision to create a Julius Caesar in which the titular character was an obvious portrayal of Trump? Lady Rizo had several nicknames for Trump, including Voldemort, Cinnamon Hitler, a sebaceous cyst of a human being; she wasn't at all shy from expressing her views. But in a release show whose album had no direct politics of its own, mentioning politics so frequently and so proudly made the show feel pretty unfocused and made Lady Rizo seem self-aggrandizing. By doing so I felt it did a disservice to the album, to the show, and to the artist.
Audrey Moyce likes to write and perform and write about performance. You can find more of her work at audreymoyce.com.