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Strap-On Rock: Peaches at the Wiltern

View more photos in Timothy Norris' Peaches slideshow.

It might seem hard to believe, but it's been almost 10 years since somebody in the know hipped you to this amazing electro record called The Teaches of Peaches by some crazy Canadian chick who recorded for German label Kitty-Yo. Since then, of course, Peaches has become recognized as a pop visionary, a left-field unidentified object that effortlessly imposed her gravity on the mainstream and forever warped the line between Madonna and Lady Gaga. She came to the Wiltern last Saturday, to present her latest slab of take-no-prisoners gender agit-prop you can dance to. I Feel Cream, she calls it, and she's enlisted long-term associate Gonzales and clever UK mixmasters Simian Mobile Disco as co-instigators.

Strap-On Rock: Peaches at the Wiltern
Timothy Norris

The bulk of Peaches' current stage show is the I Feel Cream material. But while the album is a return of sorts to the dancefloor after the punkier experimentation of Fatherfucker and Impeach My Bush, these live interpretations are fleshed out by her touring band Sweet Machine into something much more raw. Although the outlandish costume changes and self-deprecating hystrionics might make Peaches a camp icon--perhaps a Cher/Bette Midler hybrid for queer and feminist audiences that came of age around 9/11--what she really wants to be is a hard rock star. Peaches follower Lady Gaga might have Peachified Madonna's act, but as her performance amply illustrated, Peaches' own mission is to take the AC/DC/Stooges/Def Leppard script and turn the sexism of most guitar rock on its head.

Instead of cock rock, Peaches came to offer strap-on rock, if you will.

After an opening set by Iceland nu-ravers Steed Lord, the audience was primed for Peaches by the energetic Amanda Blank. The scantily clad Philly rapper jumped around like an aerobics instructor and delivered her raunchy rhymes like a one-woman Pussycat Doll show, all the while getting the crowd riled up about the headliner.

Amanda Blank fluffing the audience for Peaches
Amanda Blank fluffing the audience for Peaches
Timothy Norris

Blank's enormous crush on Peaches was contagious and by the time the three members of Sweet Machine took their places wearing what can best be described as hair-burqas, the Wiltern audience was ready to be dazzled by a unique spectacle.

And dazzled they were. Peaches' entrance following the intro of I Feel Cream's standout "Mud" upped the ante for bizarreness, elaborating on the hair-burqa motif with a gigantic hairdress that made her look like the Tim Burton version of a Maurice Sendak Wild Thing (Come to think of it, Spike Jonze was wise to stick with the milder Karen O.--one can only wonder at the foul, wonderful things Peaches would have done to his twee vision!).

Where the Wild Peaches Are
Where the Wild Peaches Are
Timothy Norris

From the get-go, those who came to see a faithful reproduction of the pristine dance sound of the new record were in for a surprise. Sweet Machine, a German trio hand-picked by Peaches for the tour, are a loud rock band featuring a pounding drummer, an Amazonian blonde bombshell with vintage Lita Ford attitude and guitar chops, and an androginous cute guy on bass and decks who looks like Le Tigre's JD Samson reborn in the chiseled body of a young Iggy Pop. Their sound gives Peaches' new and old songs a harder, oftentimes sludgier edge that clearly delights the diva.

 

Peaches herself, of course, transcends her material. She's 42 and sexual (as she likes to brag), tiny, and likes to make fun of herself and the trappings of her performance, simultaneously maintaining her in-your-face sensuality and those piercing looks of bossy madness. She runs around the stage like a maniac, crowd-surfs ("Jesus walked on water," she declares before "Show Stopper,"Peaches walks on you!"), and grimaces like Gloria Swanson while taking off a series of costumes including a pink leather contraption that makes her look like mini-Gary Oldman's Dracula, a golden parachute cape, a Flashdance-style one-piece, and a flesh-color bodysuit with a blinking "pussy-light" (her term).

Strap-On Rock: Peaches at the Wiltern
Timothy Norris

Beyond the spectacle, the songs are solid, varied, and are sure to shock anyone who had suspected her of being a one-trick pony back in the Teaches of Peaches era. She did play a revved up version of that album's "Fuck the Pain Away" (still her signature song and a best-selling T-shirt at the merch table) and much rougher versions of "Boys Wanna Be Her" and "Set It Off." But the new material was largely supplemented with several tracks from 2003's risk-taking Fatherfucker.

That album's still shocking "Shake Yer Dix" became a vehicle for Peaches to duet with her stunning guitarist over scuzzy riffs, and was followed by a real highlight--an electro-rockabilly version of "Tombstone, Baby" where the singer (wearing an awesome white leather jacket over the one-piece) channeled both Elvis and Suicide flanked by glo-in-the-dark keytars.

Strap-On Rock: Peaches at the Wiltern
Timothy Norris

Much has been made of I Feel Cream's uncharacteristic "confessional ballad" "Lose You," but Peaches defused its power onstage by performing it wearing a bathtowel over the flesh bodysuit, and calling attention to its nakedness. "I need a moment of sentimentality," she joked. "Is that OK?" That potentially vulnerable number was dealt with quickly (again, the 70s bathhouse Bette Midler comparison seems apt), and then it was back to the raunch, the raw power of the band, and gimmicks like a theremin stick that Peaches deploys like a dildo during "More" and an enormous bling chain with her name that covered her entire face.

The encores brought on more schtick--a pretend fight, and a familiar stunt where Peaches invited the audience to take off their shirts and throw them to her onstage for her to wear. But they also featured a lot of loud guitars and screaming vocals, including a reprise of Fatherfucker's "Kick It"--her infamous duet with Iggy Pop--with her bass player acting the Stooge. Her fanbase, many of whom are queer and dancey, seemed a little taken aback by the repeated plunges into punk metal. Still, they were more than willing to put up with it--"She's craaaaaaazy," a club kid told his friends, very approvingly, as the lights went up.

Strap-On Rock: Peaches at the Wiltern
Timothy Norris
Strap-On Rock: Peaches at the Wiltern
Timothy Norris

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