Peaches review – a masterclass in gleeful subversion

Oval Space, London
The glorious Canadian pan-sexual provocateur takes aim at some topical targets, eventually, in a bravura performance

There can be few better places to spend the night after a Donald J Trump presidential victory than at a gig by Peaches, the outré Canadian electropop artist. If you need succour, it is everywhere – in the regal headdress that Peaches wears for her opening song, Rub, whose centrepiece is a vulva; in the giant inflatable condom in which Peaches prances about during Dick in the Air, shooting silly string out from its tip; in the fans, turned out in get-ups almost as elaborate and smutty as those on stage.

If conservatives have gained the upper hand in the Oval Office, tonight east London’s Oval Space remains a playground for people wearing Lycra with holes in interesting places, for men adjusting their makeup in both-sex toilets. It’s hard to stay gloomy for long when confronted by two shaggy, dancing vulvas on a song called Vaginoplasty from Peaches’s 2015 tour de force album, also called Rub. When Peaches reappears after a short costume change, with six breasts dangling from her (one in her crotch), she looks like a grotesque extra from the Star Wars cantina scene, probably cinema’s most obvious bastion of diversity and tolerance.

Although there is plenty of eroticism at Peaches gigs, titillation is often not the whole point: gleeful subversion is. Through a 16-year body of work that spans catchy synthpop, skeletal electro, hard rock and Peaches Christ Superstar, a one-woman performance of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, the woman born 48 years ago as Merrill Nisker has created a parallel universe light years away from the norm. The norm is a harsh, squalid place where women’s bodies are still too often men’s playthings, extreme porn is widely distributed among schoolchildren and “slut-shaming” goes hand in hand with heteronormativity.

In Peaches’s world, sex is a free-for-all, fun and frequently absurd. Shame does not exist. All genitalia and proclivities are equal. Pussy-grabbing is frequent, but always consensual. The tide of images of women’s bodies distorted by the male gaze – shaven pudenda, siliconed mammaries – is countered with a surge of ridiculously exaggerated privates and lots of jiggling. Just at the corner of the punk-rock sneer, there is a sly grin. The risk here, though, is that the nonstop erotic cabaret of Peaches’s live show might overshadow her professionalism, that Peaches remains infamous for being a six-breasted freak, rather than the writer of frequently excellent songs. Tonight, her style and her substance are defiantly equal too.

Time for a costume change…
Time for a costume change… Photograph: Burak Cingi/Redferns

Her least X-rated song remains one of her strongest – Talk to Me, from 2009’s I Feel Cream album, which comes early in the set. “This ain’t a Peaches show,” she sings to a passive-aggressive romantic partner, “it’s just me and you.” Her wide and confidently used vocal range is another thing often overshadowed by all the engorged set dressing. Her wordplay mixes the stark aggression of hip-hop and the kind of freewheeling assonance that recalls Dr Seuss.

Rub’s Free Drink Ticket is intense, a spoken-word successor of sorts to Talk to Me, in which Peaches once again lambasts a lover who doesn’t communicate, or worse, lies. “Your personality turned to white powder/ Your brain’s clammed-up chowder,” Peaches spits, fearsomely. “I gave and you pretended.”

For Peaches, lying is a cardinal sin. Contrast this with current political discourse, as witnessed in the Trump presidential campaign and the Leave campaign before it. It’s a mark of how strange things have become when the mainstream needs to take a lesson in moral rectitude from a topless, pan-sexual provocateur whose T-shirts ask: “Whose jizz is this?” (after a Dick in the Air lyric). But that’s where we are now.

For a woman whose 2006 album was entitled Impeach My Bush, making reference to the misdemeanours of the then-US president, George W, Peaches doesn’t mention current events for a very long time. She finally gets around to it near the end. “I’d rather not say the name,” she mutters, before launching into a song called Dumb Fuck, “but he’s a dumb fuck.”

It’s hard to know where Peaches can go after this bravura performance. But, naturally, there are still places. The night’s second encore is Light in Places, a gauzy disco song in which Peaches’s double entendres redouble again. The stage is dark but for the dancers’ butt-plug torches, beaming from places the sun doesn’t normally light up.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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