In 1996, I saw The Cure at The Forum, where the band played for three hours and offered no opening band. It was phenomenal, mostly because it was The Cure, a band that was celebrating its twentieth anniversary and had accumulated a mountain of (mostly) amazing albums. I thought then that no one else could sustain a set like that, and, until last weekend, I had never seen anyone attempt a similar feat. Then I saw Emilie Autumn.
Sunday night, Autumn played the Key Club with no opening band. Joined by her group of corseted gals, The Bloody Crumpets, she played for two-and-a-half hours. The difference here, though, is that Autumn is a relatively new artist, with only a small handful of releases to her name and her US debut wasn't even on the market at the time of the show. (Opheliac is released through label The End today.) That she would dare to put together such a monstrous show is brave. That she kept the audience rapt throughout the night has to be a sign that Autumn should be the next big rock star.
Autumn doesn't put forth a typical rock show. The only instruments you'll see on the stage are a harpsichord and a fiddle. The drum programming and synth sounds stem from somewhere behind the curtain. The performance is based conceptually around the idea of a Victorian asylum, and the stage is designed to reflect that. Each one of The Bloody Crumpets has a distinct personality-- a cannibal, a pirate, a kissing bandit and a gunslinger-- which come into play with their interaction with Autumn and the audience.
The girls engage in a mix of tightly choreographed dance routines, acrobatics and improvised skits, essentially turning the asylum into a vaudeville stage. Add to this Autumn's fiddle-shredding abilities and powerful voice, which can move from ethereal highs to death metal growls with great ease, and you have a concert that defies categorization. When Autumn and The Bloody Crumpets closed with a rousing cover of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and left the stage, the crowd couldn't help but scream "Encore!" as loudly as possible. They, of course, obliged.
Also interesting to note is that Autumn's audience, at least at this show, skews young, so young that the bar was consistently empty despite the fact that the club was packed. More than a few of the girls in the audience were dressed like Autumn in white bloomers , slips and corsets with hair dyed red or pink. Even those who were dressed in basic goth gear had spiced up their outfits with red hearts as a symbol of their devotion. These weren't simply kids checking out a show, they were hardcore fans here to support Autumn for her first gig in her hometown.
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Over the course of the evening, I couldn't help but flash back to the middle portion of the 1990s, when artists like Tori Amos, PJ Harvey and Bjork were hitting the radar of the high school and college crowd across the country. For those of us who were teenagers or young adults at the time, those artists made a real, perhaps lifelong, connection in part because they hit on devastating emotions lyrically but, at the same time, incorporated a sense of the theatrical in both their visuals and performances. With the rise of the tabloid star, that level of notoriety based almost solely on albums and performance seems unattainable. Emilie Autumn, though, has the goods. As a musician, she is unafraid to delve into the darkest and loneliest aspects of the human experience and as a performer, she thrives off of keeping the crowd entertained. If there is to be a resurgence of the true rock star as the new decade arrives, she will be leading it.
Read our interview with Emilie Autumn. For information on similar artists, follow @lizohanesian on Twitter.