Picture the Captain and Tennille crossed with drag monologuist Miss Coco Peru sampled with that Saturday Night Live couple who massacre pop standards mixed with Hedwig in the middle of the breakdown. No, just wipe the slate clean with a hairbrush and envision the cabaret act from hell-a lounge concert laced with autobiography, topical commentary, subverted clichés, and psychobabble; a self-pitying wallow that drags the audience with it, but bizarrely manages to uplift in the process.
It’s Kiki & Herb: Have Another-a riotous spoof of cabaret conventions that’s part rock opera, part piano-bar formula stood on its ear, and all gritty, edgy fun that puts the ow!back in showbiz. In their Sunday night show at Fez,the demented “duosome” serves up martini glasses full of the frazzled nerves that lurk beyond the proverbially hard-bitten entertainer’s overly cosmeticized grin. As Kiki, Justin Bond summons the neuroses to the surface, bringing danger back to drag just when it was threatening to get a little too cute and commodified. Applying his rich, raw voice to AOR classics, Bond strips them of artifice and turns them into wails of
hilarity and horror. With pained expressions, vocal leaps, and quick tempo changes, Bond wrings saucy anguish out of songs, from Britney Spears’s “Baby One More Time” (“My loneliness is killing me . . . “) to a bitter number about the taunts perennial outcasts Kiki and Herb suffered as children (“You’re ugly. What the fuck gave birth to you? And what’s with that do?”).
Bond’s Kiki-a 69-year-old showbiz survivor, once diagnosed as a “retard”-responds to oppression by wearing a sparkly dress and a blond pile of hair adorned with fake flowers while, as the big-lapeled accompanist Herb, Kenny Mellman sings and/or screams a running backup commentary as if he were the Pips that only exist in the far corners of Kiki’s addled mind. Their long-running act plays on their symbiosis, dark connection, and deep love-and that goes for Kiki/Herb and Bond/Mellman. Sometimes all the anger screams out for some contrast, and occasionally the choice of material is either too esoteric or not esoteric enough. (I had just been thinking about how Kiki and Herb have created their own brand of Jim Steinman?type operetta-style numbers when they did an actual Steinman tune.) But Bond is a tireless hot mama, and the act reaches crazed heights when the songs’ dementia clicks with Kiki’s-like on a raucous rendition of “Wu Tang, motherfucker . . . ” and a gleefully damnation-courting ditty that goes, “I’m crucifying Jesus. I’m banging-banging-banging-banging in the nails.” (That one’s a singalong, by the way.)
Of course even going to hell is worth it for Kiki if you’ve lived a true showman’s life. In one deliriously windy, tasteless monologue that the audience loves, she says she deeply feels for the murdered “Concubine” student who’d won a talent contest by doing a mime act based on a contemporary Christian song. “That young mime gave her life for show business!” Kiki beams, realizing she’s the full-grown version of that girl. No wonder Kiki feels such a burning need to entertain-and entertain and entertain. Toward the end of the act, things ramble and lose a little steam, though the sprawling, unfocused sense of riffraff riffing may be fully intended. Without excess there’d be no Kiki and Herb.