The performance artist, composer and electronic musician hit the stage accompanied by dancing labia then took a walk over the crowd encased in a gigantic condom
By Katherine Monk
October 6, 2015, VANCOUVER, BC — Katy Perry has dancing sharks. Peaches has dancing labia.
There’s a good argument to be made for the merits of each mascot sidekick – an uncoordinated shark made Perry’s Super Bowl performance a viral sensation, and Peaches plushy vulvas have brought the Toronto-raised, Berlin-based performance artist international acclaim as a gender activist with a sense of humor.
But even without the shock value of gigantic stuffed genitalia prancing around the stage, there’s a clear difference in showmanship and intent that makes a Peaches show more than a night of entertainment.
The woman born Merrill Beth Nisker is able to straddle disparate worlds through her weird mise-en-scene that uses the tricks of arena rock theatrics while mocking their phallocentric obsession.
One minute she looks like Ziggy Stardust in a body suit, and the next, she’s standing before the crowd bare-breasted, illuminated by a dancer with light coming out of his ass – or more accurately, a flashlight strapped to his bum crack.
It’s great theatre, which explains why Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom was packed on a sleepy Tuesday night. Club crawlers, art rockers, party boys in fashionable stripes, lesbians who may as well be conjoined twins and the altogether uncategorized gathered in the half light as Peaches’ signature song, Nina Simone’s Four Women, howled an introduction: “My name is Peaches! My name is Peaches!”
This is the song that gave Nisker her stage name, and it’s an important piece of the Peaches puzzle because it’s a protest song that speaks to archetype.
Simone sings of four black female stereotypes: Aunt Sarah (the slave), Safronia (the mixed race exotic trapped between two worlds), Sweet Thing (the street worker) and Peaches (the woman who has had enough).
With this standard intro, Nisker’s political stance is obvious from the moment she takes the stage. She is Peaches! And she wants to open your eyes to the enslavement of the female form.
Dancing vulvas and a gigantic inflatable condom make it funny, but there’s an unmistakable edge to the experience that defines the whole show. It’s almost as if Nisker were screaming in your ear for the duration, but someone hit the mute button. The gesticulation, the physical suggestion of urgency remains, but the message itself is strangely incomprehensible.
It’s an odd feeling to feel so intellectually excited and confused at the same time. But then again, how often do you see a hairy man in a plushy vulva suit – his head assuming the role of hirsute clitoris?
The visuals are gawk-worthy and the musical compositions are catchy and dark, which is part of Peaches’ post-Brecht appeal. She pulls out the darker strands of popular culture – from dick worship to rape – and weaves them into her own dark tapestry like so much overgrown armpit hair.
In fact, Peaches lost a record deal with Sony after she refused to shave, but it made the art stronger because it affirmed her creative foundation: The body, particularly the female body, is politics.
Isolated in close-ups, frozen by Botox, laser-rejuvenated for better sex, the female body has been commodified and assigned a value, leaving the vast majority of women feeling invisible, insufficient, insecure.
Peaches’ bombastic approach is liberating, but at one point, it was clear the stubborn gender barricades are still intact: For the grand finale, Peaches wore a body suit that exposed her bare chest, and her undeniably authentic, 46-year-old breasts.
So different in appearance from the ubiquitous fake boobs found on every porn site, Peaches’ real fruit made some of the men in the room visibly uncomfortable. One pulled back from the stage with a mixture of fear and disgust. He could laugh at giant dancing labia, but real boobs displayed without apology seemed to have all the appeal of a surgical manual.
Maybe that’s why the show had such an odd feel: It connects and disconnects, it plays to stereotype while suffocating its roots, and it begs you to come closer for an intimate moment before ejaculating champagne in your face.
Peaches knows her game and she plays it to perfection, as witnessed by the most successful stage device of the night: A giant blowup sheath of plastic is inflated over the audience, allowing Peaches to walk on top of the crowd encased in what looks like a giant prophylactic.
She’s playing the Katy Perry pop star, pressing the flesh of her fans, only from the other side of her latex bubble. There is no real contact, no chance of insemination, just performance and the slightly empty feeling that comes after a fun one-night stand with lots of sweat, but no lingering soul. For any other performer, that would be a problem. But for Peaches, it signifies complete success because she proves how much we yearn for communion, yet quietly fear anything too real.
This is a review of Peaches Oct. 6, 2015 show at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver.