Review: JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND'S NOSE GAYS Birthday Bash at Joe's Pub Celebrates With Memories, Diversity and Anger

A week-long birthday celebration at Joe's Pub

By: May. 23, 2023
Review: JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND'S NOSE GAYS Birthday Bash at Joe's Pub Celebrates With Memories, Diversity and Anger
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Royalty is not a word I use lightly, especially after being saturated with the whole coronation of King Charles earlier this month.  But, when someone as regal (and bawdy) as Justin Vivian Bond turns 60 years old, it might be time to give whatever equivalent nobility of a Dame we New Yorkers can bestow on this downtown icon.  If one required any proof of their eminence, you just needed to witness what Bond gifted to us, their ladies-in-waiting:  a week-long Diamond Jubilee concert series at Joe’s Pub.  And we, the loyal subjects were blessed with an eclectic, vibrant and powerful show.

Review: JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND'S NOSE GAYS Birthday Bash at Joe's Pub Celebrates With Memories, Diversity and Anger

If you only know Mx. Viv from Kiki and Herb, their wildly popular (and Tony-nominated) lounge act with Kenny Mellman, you’d find they don’t stray too much from that formula of song (usually a cover) and patter (usually inappropriate and hysterical memories of their many decades of cabaret).  But with Justin Vivian Bond at the center, and talented and generous musical director Matt Ray backing them up, the songs were more heartfelt (and occasionally angrier), and the patter was more personal. as they are no longer an outrageous biography for the fictional duo, but Bond’s own life.

Review: JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND'S NOSE GAYS Birthday Bash at Joe's Pub Celebrates With Memories, Diversity and Anger

I was very late to the game of the meaning to the show's title. I took Nose Gay literally, as did the poster, but my guest filled me in on its floral meaning (it’s a style of bouquet of small flowers, like posies).  That helped the invitation make more sense:

Please do not bring gifts unless they are PRECIOUS gems.

Pink, purple and white floral tributes will be HAPPILY accepted.

In the words of Ram Das, Be here now.

YOU are the present.

Review: JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND'S NOSE GAYS Birthday Bash at Joe's Pub Celebrates With Memories, Diversity and Anger

Mx. Viv started their set with a pensive version of “The Woman in the Moon” from A Star is Born (the Barbra Streisand one), in which they admit that all their lives they idolized and fetishized woman stars of a certain age, and now they are that age.  Bond then segued into another of their heroes, Annie Lennox, with “Cold.”

For the middle section, it’s the stories that really stood out.  In between songs by Chet Baker, Burt Bacharach and Joni Mitchell, as well as a Justin Vivian Bond original, the Birthday Guest of Honor gave us the reason they wanted to do this celebration in the first place, and that being the death of their mother and aunt earlier this year.  From those somber and tragic events, Bond rose like a phoenix to the stage of Joe’s Pub, with their humor and talent intact.

Review: JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND'S NOSE GAYS Birthday Bash at Joe's Pub Celebrates With Memories, Diversity and Anger

At the first costume change of the evening (i.e. taking off the darker top), Bond started to relax a bit, telling wonderful stories that usually ended with their signature shrug and whatever expression, as they dove into some more female singer-songwriters, with Kate Bush’s underrated “Under the Ivy” (if you want to hear Bond’s definitive take of Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” take a listen to Kiki and Herb’s Carnegie Hall recording) and the wonderful “Drag Queens In Limousines” by Mary Gauthier, with Bond giving the audience a hint of Stevie Nicks twirling choreography. 

Review: JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND'S NOSE GAYS Birthday Bash at Joe's Pub Celebrates With Memories, Diversity and Anger

Matching Bond beat for beat was their backup band, which included the consummate pianist Ray, the “don’t judge a book by the cover” Bernice “Boom Boom” Brooks killing it on the drums, the soulful strumming of Nathann Carrera on guitar, Mike Jackson on bass, and the luminous Claudia Chopek on violin.  Even when Bond flubbed a lyric here and there, the band made it seem like a spontaneous riff, until Bond finally let on that they messed it up.  Good for them.

After a boppy version of Kenny Loggins’ “I Believe in Love” (talk about an eclectic taste in music), Bond ended the evening (again, shedding another top to just a simple black sleeveless undershirt) with a strong and angry finale.  The official conclusion of the concert was a fierce and alcohol-fueled version of Lana Del Rey’s “Doin’ Time,” but Bond saved most of their vitriol and anger for their encore (when an audience member asked for five encores, Bond quipped back, “Is it YOUR birthday?”).   Their angry response to the current political right-wing nightmare, and, specifically, the war on transgender people, seemed to manifest itself rapturously in Patti Smith’s ferocious “Pissing in a River.” 

Review: JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND'S NOSE GAYS Birthday Bash at Joe's Pub Celebrates With Memories, Diversity and Anger

“What more can I give you?” Justin roared to the audience as a sort of exorcism of rage, as well as a rally call to us to join them in the fight, reminding us fans that Justin Vivian Bond may be 60, but they still have a lot to say, and a lot of crap to rebel against. 

If you couldn't attend this birthday celebration, Justin has another concert in June at Joe's Pub.  Miss Mx. Viv twice?  Shame on you.  

    

THE BAND

Musical Direction: Matt Ray

Drums: Bernice “Boom Boom” Brooks

Guitar: Nathann Carrera

Violin: Claudia Chopek

Bass: Mike Jackson

Review: JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND'S NOSE GAYS Birthday Bash at Joe's Pub Celebrates With Memories, Diversity and Anger

Justin Vivian Bond's next Joe's Pub concert - What Have You Done For Me Legislately? - will be performed June 15 -25.  Info here.

Justin Vivian Bond's website.

Joe's Pub calendar.

Concert Photos by Cary Wong



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