Sister Act: CocoRosie feat. Kembra

00:00 November 12, 2013
By: David Vicari

In the wake of another always excellent Halloween in New Orleans, most of the residents of the city have once again retired their costumes for another year, after two weekends of creeping the hell out of locals and visitors alike. Along with Voodoo Fest done and gone,the transition into (real) fall, ie. The time of year with schizophrenically cooler/milder nights and the absence of outright-hot days, suggestively brings about the return to normalcy that encourages most of us to exchange our summer and short-term Halloween wardrobes for more appropriate clothing we'll be donning for the coming months.

Therefore, it was only appropriate to follow up the eerie holiday with one more eerie, bizarre show at Tipitina's with a few maniacally dressed, supernatural looking creatures, before we all get out the eggnog and argyle reindeer and snowman sweaters.

For those who are unfamiliar with CocoRosie, they are the Casady sisters (Bianca- "Coco, and Sierra- "Rosie"), who have been prolifically yet divisively putting out music since 2003. While they have had considerably more mainstream success to date in Europe, the duo has perennially embarked on a series of North American tours since forming, which happened when the previously estranged sisters reunited in France and began performing together. To the uninitiated, their style has been characterized as "weird", which has led them to be oddly placed into the sub-genre world under the likes of so-called "freak-folk" and the ambiguous "experimental". Most likely the point of greatest controversy is the shaky timbre of lead vocalist Bianca Casady, whose voice to the non-fan could sound as offensive as Zelda Rubinstein in Poltergeist, or oddly angelic in the way some consider the likes of Joanna Newsom or Janis Joplin. Nevertheless, they have maintained a legion of loyal fans that have kept them busy on the road and in the studio now for a decade, and this year they have been promoting their new album, "Tales of a Grass Widow", by touring Europe, North America, and before years end they will begin their South American tour.

The night was kicked off by opening act Kembra Pfahler of the former cult glam-punk band The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. Mere seconds after her introduction, she disrobed and treated the crowd to her signature nude head-to-toe red painted "living exhibit" with which she left very little to the imagination. Her performance of punk in a burlesque style was an immediate departure from the expected, and her eclectic set featured some tunes reminiscent perhaps of a distillate from a Joan Jett/Ziggy Stardust/New York Dolls chimera. However, it was her punked-out performance of Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" to the tune of a circus waltz that was the point in which I was convinced that I had crossed over into the 9th circle of Hell. She looked like Satan, which provided me with some rather interesting ponderings, because if you're like me, I've actually never considered what my slightly cartoonish idea of the Devil would look like as a woman, so hats off to her for expanding my mind in such an unanticipated way.

When Kembra finally called off the demons, CocoRosie came out and began their own séance, which was a much less sinister, more reflective sort of psychedelic conjuring. They spent the first few minutes performing a ritualistic dance, which contrasted slightly with the horizontal white and black bee-striped prison garbs that they came out in. I would like to assume that the prison get-ups were their way of sticking with the sadistic theme of the opening act, but their look much like their sound is so intentionally subversive that it seems too simplistic to overlook some other potential metaphor.

Their set was so Jekyll and Hyde that I felt sorry for anyone who wasn't prepared. From one song to the next they alternated between the innocent and the deranged; from the soft sounds of a tortured, child-like lyricist layered in with heavy, soothing baroque-sounding bass, then turning around and immediately cavorting their way to the next with a total counter-point hip-hop freestyle track. While startling, the contrast created an ambiance of its own that was in line with their lyrics. The up-and-down, emotional turbulence that is clearly present in their songwriting was crystallized by the performance art that was taking place on stage. Constantly changing outfits, constantly changing instrumentation, its a musical roller coaster that is easy not to allow yourself to get on, but if you do, it becomes clear after a song or two that there is a unique beauty in their craft, and they give you no choice but to appreciate with them what makes their music so intimate and actually inviting.

CocoRosie have evolved very gradually over the years while maintaining their very careful and thoughtful style of music. It's been largely due in part to their style being as unique as it is and the breadth of range they had from the start. They've changed enough to appease their creative desires to grow without losing touch with what makes them great. What they gave us was a beautiful, unpretentious artistic performance unlike any other. There is a darkness and pain in their music and performance that is chilling and cathartic and can really only be fully internalized by witnessing in person.

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