Note to readers: At this concert, Lucy Lawless showed two short videos that featured her taking care of an abandoned baby squirrel. In introducing the second video, Lucy explained that squirrel mothers lick thier baby's genitals in order to encourage them to urinate, thus preventing health problems. In the second video, Lucy takes the squirrel in hand and proceeds to "wank him to pee." You can see the squirrel videos at Lucy's official website; they are referred to several times in this review.
The Cute-Little-Red-Headed-Girlfriend and I have returned from a weekend trip to San Francisco, where we attended Lucy Lawless's concert at the Herbst Theater, a fundraiser for REAF. Our adventure started last Friday, the day before the concert, when we slid on our Travelling Pants and prepared to meet the Xena Sisterhood (and a few brothers).
Leaving from Los Angeles International, we flew into San Francisco on Virgin America. Sitting down in the purple- and pink-accented plane interior, on a flight laden with queers, I felt like I had boarded the Homo Express for Homo Town. I relaxed as the Girlfriend tuned into a re-run of Battlestar Galactica on Virgin's nifty in-flight entertainment system.
After checking into our hotel, the Girlfriend and I went out for a brief walk, intending to orient ourselves to the city. We stopped for a few minutes near a busy street corner while I waited for Google Maps to download satellite data to my cell phone. Suddenly, a familiar face came into view a few steps in front of us. I raised my arm to point at the figure and said, "It's Michael Orland."
Then we noticed Orland's beautiful companion. Lucy had her head pulled down, her hair dangling around her face, presumably trying not to draw attention. Her outfit consisted of a light green t-shirt and jeans, and she appeared to be wearing her natural hair color and no makeup. We watched Michael and Lucy pass by, then turn and enter their hotel.
I recently saw an interesting BBC documentary called "Hotel California: LA from the Byrds to the Eagles." The documentary brought to light Linda Ronstadt's role as an under-credited force on the music scene of the '70s. I mention it because Lucy's look just then--the casual clothes, big eyes, soft strands of brunette hair pushed forward--brought to mind early images of Ronstadt.
The following evening we showed up at the Herbst Theater, a staid, mid-size venue a few doors down from the San Francisco Opera House. Some fans wore what lesbians consider to be fancy dress, however, there were also a lot of Creation shirts on display. We took our seats in the second row, behind a line of three men and one woman who I think were associated either with REAF or the Herbst Theater.
The lights went down and Sharon Delaney's familiar voice came over the speakers to introduce Tig Notaro as the opening act. She did a funny improvisation on a seating mishap in the front row, which led her to visualize a large swing descending from the roof of the theater, on which t-shirted fans were seated, kicking their legs. As Tig concluded her set, the band began to take their places.
The theater stage was much larger than the club stages I've seen Lucy perform on, perhaps even twice as large. There was room for a grand piano for Michael Orland, and a new female band member, Christy Crowl on keyboards. As the band tore into "Tell Momma," Lucy bounded out in a smoke black sheath dress fringed with feathers at the bottom hem, matching long black gloves with feather trim, and open-toed, animal print stack heels.
Black sequins glittered around the dress's skin-revealing front neckline and racerback, while the dress body was composed of alternating bands of a matte stretch material and a more reflective material of the same color. The dress would often take on colors from the lights, creating effects similar to that of the catsuit Lucy wore in New York at the Canal Room.
Sometimes, it was possible to see a pattern of tightly placed rectangles in the dress, making it shine like armor. Of course, what was most significant about the dress was what it revealed. Lucy's bare legs were an imposing sight as she strode around the stage that evening. The muscles of Lucy's exposed back and shoulders undulated beneath her dress's back straps.
Streaks of dark color lent a richness to Lucy's hair, which fell in thick curls around her face and neck. Silvery eyeshadow complemented the reflectiveness of Lucy's dress and added to the impression of old Hollywood glamour given by her appearance.
Lucy gave a terrific rendition of "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?" filled with the energy and pure life force that makes her so entertaining to watch on stage. Early in the show, Lucy performed a striptease with her gloves, tugging at the long sleeves with her teeth to reveal her magnificantly proportioned hands. I'm hoping that when the time comes, L Word producer Ilene Chaiken offers us some lingering Bound style close-ups of those sexy beasts.
During a few songs fan videos were screened in the background while Lucy sang. Although I did find it disconcerting to be staring at videos when Lucy was live a few feet in front of me, the videos were excellent. Congratulations to those fans who contributed; you did a great job.
Lucy's decision to integrate fan culture into the performance seems indicative of a larger shift towards participatory formats within mainstream entertainment. Same goes for the geeky squirrel videos that were captured on Michael Orland's cell phone. I loved those squirrel videos. I could watch a whole channel of that. In fact, I would upgrade to HD for that kind of quality programming.
The improvements in Lucy's voice that I noted in my report on the Universal CityWalk concert were also evident in San Francisco. Lucy has a lovely voice at the high end, but I find the character and texture of her voice comes more from her lower range. This was particularly clear in her performances of "Total Eclipse of the Heart," "Hallelujah" and "River Deep Mountian High."
My favorite song of the night was "New and Beautiful." I feel like this song has crept up on me from behind. Lucy always does a spoken intro to this song where she asks the audience to "make it their own." The song has meant very different things to me on the occasions I've heard it, and I always find it tremendously moving.
Michael Orland was more relaxed on stage this time around, kidding and joking with Lucy from time to time. Backup singer Peggi Blu sounded great paired with a male backup and looked lovely in an all black ensemble. Ted Perlman, guitarist, did a fantastic job as usual and seemed thoroughly confused by all the applause fans directed at him. It was cute.
Some fans have said this was Lucy's best concert yet. I both agree and disagree with this appraisal. On the one hand, Lucy's vocal performances on songs like "River Deep Mountain High" and "Wide Awake" were the best to date. However, I thought overall the performance was an incremental improvement from the Universal CityWalk concert, which was more of an "OMG, WTF!?" improvement. More than anything, it raised my expectations for what comes next.
I'm not much of a stage door gal, so when the concert was over we went to the lobby to talk to friends. In time, we were kicked out into the street, where we continued our discussions with fans from England and other far-flung places. Finally, tiredness began to set in, and we said good-bye to our fellow Xenites with the parting words, "'Til January."
My thanks go to Sharon Delaney of Creation Entertainment for helping me out with missing details about Lucy's band.
This report was first published in slightly different form at AUSXIP. Thank you to MaryD for permission to use photos from her site in this post. Top photo by L. Boyles. Bottom photo by K.T. Jorgensen. Squirrel additions by me.