Peaches, The Bowery Ballroom NYC, 26 July 2001

Making fun of Peaches is beside the point because she gets it over with immediately, like taking off her clothes. Like her costume, your titters are mostly gone by the first song. The show Peaches put on at Bowery Ballroom that Friday night was not a slow-strip triumph of soft-porn lighting and rehearsal, it was something else. (Maybe that’s why she didn’t open for Madonna as she might have, in another pop time or place.)

“This ain’t no fuckin talk show” after all, as she snarled in “Rock Show”, squatting on a raised upstage platform in red high heels and stockings, whacking a huge imaginary cock, with a similarly visually-absent guitar kicking out a crude and blistering jam that rode the shocked crowd of twenty-something bar-hoppers like a sadistic bareback expert. “You came here for a rock show!” she screamed, alone on stage, singing to a minidisc.

There were famous people there. A photographer I’d never heard of who’s made a name for himself using cheap point-and-shoot cameras for his million-dollar fashion spreads. Somebody said they saw Adam Yauch. The lights went down. An ominously cheap bass line started pounding the walls, and the skin of the place tingled – what would she look like? What would she do? There’s no band fer chrissakes, just a mic stand on an empty stage bathed in magenta light. We were in a frenzy. Where was she? I imagined the perfect Peaches show: the entire show played off her minidisc. No act, no people, no Peaches, just savagely cheap beats and pre-recorded vocals.

But I was at the wrong show for that kind of perfect conceptual cleanliness, which is the ideal form that seamless-mix DJs take, hidden in the shadows of the cave, fleshless tech manipulators. Peaches is about the flesh: the embarrassing reality of the flesh, of ugly instincts you want to imagine away. Out, damn spot! But the blood showed up: Peaches bounded out of the wings, aviator shades in effect, scowling, a walk that was more like a stumble. She mumbled something about “New York City” and lurched into “Set it Off”, the dank thuds of bounce-tempo casio beats driving a big fuzz bassline and the chatter of synthetic hi- hats. The crowd was freaking, desperate to cheer this crazy woman, to validate what? Their sense of kitsch perhaps. The $15 they spent on tickets.

But the shared joke among us – that this woman Peaches is a novelty act, hilarious in theory, or for 3 minutes off a hard drive – was left hanging in shreds by the time she’d got down to her red silk panties for “Rock Show”, which seemed like some performative point of no return. A singer with a fake band. A performer with no moves. A sex symbol who insists on her own ugliness. Peaches reversed something about the crowd. She made us accomplices. She knows about that stain you’re trying to hide.

Moldy Peaches were the opener. They were all wearing costumes that looked like the band had made them about 5 minutes before the show, and they played sort of strummy folkrock songs with kitchen-table pothead lyrics (“we hate dance and we hate rap / but we like to contradict ourselves / that’s our act”) and they drew lots of laughs. “Who’s Got the Crack” was a crowd favorite. Knowing what static lay ahead, the MP’s straight-up irony was oddly comforting. I idly amused myself with thoughts of rushing the stage later on, ripping off my shirt, taking Peaches up on her challenge, to turn a promise into flesh, to turn erotica into porn. Peaches did hop down from the stage at one point. A bouncer appeared out of nowhere, his arms crossed, watching. This is New York after all. No one could see what was happening down front, but after a minute or two the bouncer pulled her up and out of there. “That was fun,” she said. And two girls joined her on stage for “Lovertits”. Some guy showed up for “Rock n Roll” and got bottles chucked at him.

But really, Peaches needed nothing but herself: sometimes not even that. About 3 songs in, a long bass drone slams into the room, the lights go crazy, synth drums pound nonsensically and this stripper with a gut, this junkie Sandra Bernhardt, flips off the whole room, crouching with her mic (having flung the mic stand offstage on the first song) and screams “I don’t give a fuuuuuuuuuck…. I don’t give a fuuuuuuuuuck….” She starts humping the floor, a vocal comes in, clearly Peaches, but she’s not singing. Peaches swings the mic violently around her body, twisting the cord, making herself into a bondage doll. She stuffs the microphone in her bra and sings along to herself. She slides it down her pants and hits it with her hand. She wants to break the tool she uses. Or fuck it. Or abandon it. Or all of the above.

After the inital thrill had worn off, and the cheapness of the entire evening began to dawn on us, the crowd was, understandably, a knot of confused indecision. Laughing was impossible – we had gone well beyond that. Cheering also seemed equally strange – how do we applaud this willfully nasty neglect of performative duties? How do we reward this refusal? And then, finally, the infamous “suckin on my titties” song started up and the entire crowd, enormously thankful for some recognizable shard, some agreed-upon if ill-remembered emotion, sang the chorus with her – “fuck the pain away, fuck the pain away” – fists raised in air, triumphant. It was not.

Elisha Sessions