I'm back now in Los Angeles after visiting New York to see Lucy Lawless perform at the Canal Room. I went Friday and Saturday night to Lucy's concerts, and I have some related impressions from Thursday night to give as well. My report is coming to you in the form of a three-day mashup, moving freely back and forth between dates, discussing what I thought was most notable in my experience each night.
The Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend and I arrived in New York on Thursday, a little too late in the evening to catch Lucy's first concert on May 31. After checking into our hotel, we went for a walk in Greenwich Village with the lights from the Empire State Building--lit up lavender for gay pride month--shining in the distance. We passed various gay and lesbian hot spots before, with echoes of sweet freedom whispering in our ears, we turned south to check out the scene outside the Canal Room.
Approaching the corner club, we felt the pounding of music coming towards us from a distance. As the music became clearer, we could make out Lucy singing "Piece of My Heart." I rested my palms against the walls of the club and felt them pulsating with the music. I didn't know it at the time, but I was standing against the wall that stood directly behind the band.
The Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend and I were standing on the sidewalk checking out the club when a door swung open sharply and out walked a tall blonde in a silvery space-like suit followed by several body guards. It was Lucy. She did a quick U-turn, flung open the door next to the one she'd just walked out of, and disappeared inside. The Girlfriend and I turned to each other, eyes wide. The club was built so that Lucy had to exit the stage onto the street, then re-enter through another door to reach the "backstage" area.
After our unexpected sighting of Lucy, we went to chat with two of the Club's doormen. I wanted to know when fans had started lining up, so we could figure out the best time to get in line on Friday.
"They started showing up at 10:00," said one doorman.
"You are shittin' me," I shot back.
"We had to bring them water," the other doorman confirmed. "They got very hot."
"Better show up early tomorrow," the first doorman advised.
On Friday, we got in line outside the Canal Room at quarter past five. Looking at the people in front of me, I was taken aback by how many I recognized from L.A. events. The L.A. fan contingent that came to New York for the shows was much bigger than I expected. It made me feel so much more emotionally healthy to know that in terms of the extent of my obsession I was just one among many.
The Canal Room was comparable in size to the Roxy in Los Angeles, although the stage was significantly smaller. It looked like a tight squeeze for the band, and there was less room for Lucy and her backup singers to maneuver. Still, I thought it was a great choice for a venue: small enough to remain intimate, cool enough for rock and roll, nice enough to feel safe.
Tig Nataro opened on Friday with a comedy routine liberally sprinkled with Xena fan references and Lucy anecdotes. The high degree of audience overlap among concerts made it challenging for the comic to keep her material fresh, a fact she demonstrated by leading the crowd in a hilarious group retelling of her "no moleste" joke.
Friday was probably a better showcase for Tig's standup, and a better introduction to her act for newcomers. However, having seen her act before, I really appreciated Tig's performance on Saturday, when she jettisoned her routine in favor of improvisation and riffed off the audience's responses. It takes a very agile, quick mind to do that--Ellen DeGeneres and Paula Poundstone are comics who excel at this kind of audience engagement--and I enjoyed seeing what Tig was capable of doing off the cuff.
Lucy came out on Friday and Saturday nights singing "Feeling Good" wearing her new liquid metal catsuit and open-toed black heels. The stage lights played across the fabric of the catsuit as Lucy moved, glimmering back a warm red, hot fuchsia, and cool blue, purple, or lavender as the lights changed with the mood of the music. Lucy wore her hair down for the first part of the show, and her long blond locks appeared straightened. On Saturday, matching pinpoint highlights in her eyeshadow made her blue eyes stand out even more than usual.
At the New York concerts, Lucy did not chat with the audience with the frequency that she did at the Roxy, nor did she speak at length. In the first half of the show, one song segued quickly into the next. Dancing, vamping, and goofing with lead backup singer Sharlotte Gibson, Lucy performed several songs from her earlier shows, including "I'm the Only One," "Down On My Knees," "Maxine," "Total Control," "The Cowboy Song," "Let's Give Them Something to Talk About," and a new song for Lucy, "Shaky Ground."
For me, the performance highlight on Friday was Lucy's rendition of Sophie B. Hawkins's "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover." Lucy introduced it as a song about "lady love" and expressed the hope--sincere it seemed, though it's sometimes hard to tell with Lucy's sense of humor--that it wouldn't shock anyone. There was a certain breathlessness in the room during the song as the audience listened, spellbound. In the end, the crowd appeared to be profoundly unshocked, based on the noticeably lengthy applause the song received. In my opinion, Lucy's rendition was an improvement on the original, both more soulful and more urgent.
Lucy dedicated several songs to friends and family in the audience, including husband Rob (Friday's "You Take My Breath Away") and daughter Daisy (Saturday's "I'll Stand By You"), among others. The first part of the set came to a close with Lucy's romantic rendition of "Do You Wanna Dance?" followed by the showstopper "Piece of My Heart" with Sharlotte. Lucy's band, led by Michael Orland, ripped into "Piece of My Heart" Saturday night, just killing it! They looked like they enjoyed playing it as much as the audience enjoyed listening to them.
Sharlotte Gibson took over the stage while Lucy departed to change costume. Already, Sharlotte seems to have become a fan favorite. Outside the club before Saturday's show, there was a buzz of excitement when Sharlotte appeared and the fans call out to her when she's onstage with Lucy. Sharlotte seems to know what we like, too, based on the partial leather lace-up bustier she wore on Saturday.
Sharlotte performed her song "Billy Comes Home," making a special mention of the relationship between the song's theme (bringing home U.S. troops) and New York. As was the case at the Roxy, Billy was there onstage, only this time he danced for the women in the audience. Everyone hooted with pleasure at this turnabout, with several women coming forward to slip dollar bills in Billy's pockets while he tried out some dirty dance moves.
Lucy returned from the break on Friday wearing a micro-length pink fringed dress festooned with transparent discs that flashed under the lights. Her hair was held back a by gem-studded clip that showed off her exceptionally cute and well-formed ears. On Saturday, however, she donned the chaps that the Xena convention audience overwhelmingly voted for earlier that day, paired with an electric blue bra and the mesh halter Lucy wore at the Dinah Shore Weekend performance.
A swinging version of "Tell Mama" was up first after the break, followed by "What I'd Say." This time round, fans knew to expect Renee O'Connor's appearance onstage as a go-go dancer during "What I'd Say." Confident and completely in control of the stage, Renee entered in a fire-engine red fringed go-go dress that showed off the milky whiteness of her skin and her tight musculature. Renee directly engaged with the audience, teasing and talking when the dancing was through. She brought a spirit of lightness and fun with every shimmying step. How to describe it? Seeing Renee fills me with that Younger than Springtime feeling.
In interviews, Lucy has often commented on how much she prefers comedy to drama. But as Xena fans know, no one expresses pain and anger quite like Lucy Lawless. Of course, with psychic pain being something of a specialite de la maison in the House of Lesbos, a significant portion of Lucy's fanbase wants to see that angst.
I can report to you that the power, the passion and the danger were especially evident on Saturday during the final songs of the evening, including "What's Up?" "True Colors," and the fan-requested Saturday-only song, "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Although my own taste in music runs more in the direction of punk (or in other words, the complete opposite direction of "Total Eclipse of the Heart,") I found Lucy's rendition of the song devastatingly raw. It was my favorite performance on Saturday.
For the finale, Lucy chose the 1973 hit, "Delta Dawn," a great match for Lucy's voice and dark sense of humor. Back in '73, Helen Reddy's version of "Delta Dawn" was one of those songs (along with hits by, god help me, Anne Murray and Karen Carpenter) where the rich quality of a low female voice spoke to my body in a way that presaged the sexual discoveries of my teenage years. In other words, "Delta Dawn" was a song that said to me, "Honey, you're a dyke." So it was great fun to hear the song again so many years later, this time in a more celebratory mode.
After the concert on Saturday, I lingered a bit inside the club before exiting onto the sidewalk, where about 50 women stood in ones and twos, smoking intensely. I felt like asking the crowd, "Was it good for you, too?" but instead sought out my elated companions and we walked off together into the night.
Need more, Xenites? Visit my archives or search this blog using the terms "Xena," "Lucy Lawless" or "Renee O'Connor."