When someone sits down to write, they must consider their audience. In most situations, it's appropriate to aim right down the middle – to provide enough background information for the novice to follow along, without boring those already familiar with the subject. In most topics related to music – particularly live music – Too Much Rock can hit this mark without tremendous research or compromise. The following show account, however, falls well short of this goal. Specifically, fans of Emilie Autumn will be uninterested in my retelling of their lore, if not actually insulted. I fully expect corrections to fly my way the moment this account goes live, because Emilie Autumn isn't a musical act that Too Much Rock can provide a description of, but rather it's a culture, or a counterculture, with which I'm completely unacquainted. Below you will find what I have gathered.
Some months back a musical promoter sent me a video of a woman sitting behind a piano (or was it a harpsichord?) singing. The song wasn't anything special, her voice wasn't anything memorable, and her stage attire completely over-the-top. I politely declined to review the album or include it on the podcast – just not Too Much Rock's style. Over the next few months, the promoter continued to send me notes about this band, Emilie Autumn, including a tour itinerary with a stop less than a mile from my house bolded for emphasis. I watched another video (or maybe it was the same one), and I decided this act might be a hoot – and if it wasn't, then the audience definitely would be. I emailed back to say I would cover the show. Although the promoter pushed me to interview Emilie Autumn, I smugly declined.
As the date of the concert approached I spent a bit of time searching for live videos, listening to music, and researching Emilie Autumn and her fans. Just cursory stuff, nothing that Wikipedia couldn't provide. Urban Dictionary explained that dedicated fans are called "plague rats," and I tittered as I read that new fans are known as "muffins." Video on You Tube showed a book reading by Emilie Autumn whereupon she entered a park in deteriorating Victorian dress, and read to a legion of similarly dressed PRs who sat on picnic blankets sipping tea from china cups. I was tickled by the thought of it all.
The next night I stood in a short line outside of the Beaumont Club. Those around me were young, mostly female, and roughly gothic: corsets – mandatory, striped stockings – required, dyed hair – compulsory. Many bore the mark of Emilie Autumn – a small heart inked (likely in red lip liner) on their right cheeks. Few of the men in line seemed to play along, but those that did were mostly gaunt men in bowler hats, vests, and chained pocket watches. This isn't to say there wasn't the occasional pirate (yes) or nouveau-Edwardian in attendance as well. I wondered if I would be called out for my cultural voyeurism.
The short line outside soon turned into a small crowd inside. I purposefully made my way toward the front of the stage to the photographer's pit, but there was none. There was no barrier between the audience and the stage, nor was there any visible security. I turned around, hoping to move upstairs and shoot with a longer lens from the VIP area, but it, along with the upstairs bar, was closed off and dark. But wait, the handwritten sign on the front door indicated that VIP tickets were sold out. Where were all the VIPs? Why, pressed at the front of the stage of course. Normally Beaumont VIPs are successful middle-aged couples looking to avoid the general admission chaos; but tonight, the VIPs were minors in ripped tights and secondhand Dr. Martens brimming with a teenage lust to be as close as possible to Emilie Autumn.
I picked the best spot I could (about four "rows" back from the stage) and set up camp. Those around me were excited. Very excited. I listened as their conversations drifted from Emilie Autumn to the Twilight saga and back again. I did crossword puzzles on my phone and waited. The PA pumped out thin, scratchy prewar songs and marches once popular in Britain. The audience fetishised these songs, singing along and dancing as if they were part of the current culture. Thirty-eight minutes later, a disembodied Dickensian voice rumbled though the house speakers, warning the gentlemen in the audience to beware of madness in girls and women, suggesting the best course of action was to have them committed to the "The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls." As the diabolic laughter trailed off, the stage was set.
Here is where my quick research had failed me. Here is where I began to realize that Emilie Autumn isn't a musician touring to promote her forthcoming Fight Like a Girl album. Here I learned that "Fight Like A Girl" is the new musical theatre production of Emilie Autumn. And it would debut in Kansas City of all places.
"Fight Like a Girl" is, above all, cabaret. There is song, dance, choreographed comedy, burlesque, costume changes, scenery, and props, but, aside from the ominous introduction, there was no dialogue. As I watched the story unfold, I forgot about the absurdity of plague rats and muffins, of corsets and pirates, and remembered the interview that I had foolishly declined. There was a lot to this story, and I had a growing list of questions for Emilie Autumn.
Emilie is joined on stage by what is curiously referred to as her "band." Although each provided some degree of accompanying vocals, this trio of women might more aptly be referred to as her "company." To the initiated, these woman are the "Bloody Crumpets." Veronica Varlow, Captain Maggots, & The Blessed Contessa each play a slightly different role, though I imagine each are meant to represent variations of the "hysterical" Victorian woman. The performance opens with all four women in the asylum, evidently continuing the storyline from an earlier piece associated with the Opheliac album.
Sadly, my less-than-optimal camera vantage point was a positively abysmal aural choice. I listened intently to catch dialogue within lyrics, but heard little more than pulsing industrial beats, pounding harpsichord, and Autumn's voice vacillating between guttural shrieks and a high vibrato. In short, I didn't catch any musical nuance, and what I did catch wasn't anything that interested me. As I noted months ago, this isn't Too Much Rock's style.
If this were a standard concert, things might have ended flatly right there, but although the musical particulars were lost, the visual spectacle was more than enough to keep me fixated on the stage. The sword battles, fan dances, flying tea biscuits, costume changes, and choreography kept me curiously rapt. The wink and nod sexuality didn't hurt either. And although I imagined I might enjoy this show better seated at a table, Autumn's fans knew this wasn't actually cabaret, but something much more interactive. Something they need to be close to.
The Beaumont's normal barricade between fan and performer was not down by accident. Emilie Autumn invites her audience into the asylum she now commands. This is a place for alienated girls, where personal empowerment, individuality, and acceptance are celebrated. Through her music, her stage show, her books, and her social media interaction, Emilie Autumn is building a community of the disregarded. And while Tori Amos may have travelled a similar path decades earlier, Autumn does it with both wit and whimsy, making the experiment much more fun to see.
The show's grand spinning finale was punctuated by the explosion of a cannon, showering the audience with glitter and confetti. Afterwards the players left the stage, the lights came up, and Emilie Autumn addressed her audience. If there was any doubt that this was not a typical concert, but instead musical theatre, Autumn quickly squashed it by discussing the audience's roll in workshopping this debut performance, of her own activity breaking the fourth wall, and of her need to get back into character in order to perform an encore. As with most stage events, this show ended with each of the Emilie Autumn and her Bloody Crumpets each coming to the fore of the stage for applause.
When the house music came up, I brushed the glitter and confetti from my sweater and slipped outside. While I packed up my camera equipment, a parade of beaming plague rats filed out of the club, and I began to wonder what I could possibly be qualified to write about the evening, and what the application process for muffins entails.
Update: In following the Emilie Autumn's Twitter feed, it appears as though new numbers have been added to the "Fight Like a Girl" show since opening night. It seems I may have over-estimated the cohesive narrative nature of the performance, and instead the show may be built on thematically linked vignettes that can be added or subtracted based on any number of factors.