King Princess At Irving Plaza, Thursday, January 24th, 2019, Reviewed
We woke up this morning to King Princess’ new single, a duet on Fiona Apple’s 1999 “I Know,” a beautiful one where Fiona stayed in the background and King Princess is just about perfection up front, a subdued and sweet sound joined with Fiona like a hum in our ears. Fiona called Mikaela (Straus – King Princess’ given name) charming and charming is at least one of the 20 year old singer songwriter’s attributes. By an odd coincidence, I was at Fiona’s infamous Roseland meltdown around the time “I Know” was released making her the sign of male sexual hostility towards a girl once she got out of the bath and became herself, and also at King Princess just last night. And by another odd coincidence, the Roseland gig had been heavy on teen lesbians as well. So had shows by Ani Franco and PJ Harvey around this time -none of these women are genderqueer, yet had shows where girls went looking for role models and sort of missed out. They were stuck with excellent but somewhat closeted artists like Tracy Chapman and godlike genius Joan Armatrading, as well as Birkenstock poster queers the Indigo Girls, perhaps the best reason to go straight Melissa Ethridge, and Tegan and Sara -who are pretty good but not exactly hip.
Back in the 1970s, when glam rock brought us gender fuck puppets like Jagger, Bowie, Elton and Iggy, lesbians weren’t invited to the party. Post-Punk brought us rock against sexism and legends Jam Today (who refused to perform in front of men) and the Raincoats (one of the great bands) and the Au Pairs (“You’re equal but different -it’s obvious”) and yet the shading was still more melodramatic than free in multi-color sexiness. In retrospect, it had as much to do with Andrea Dworkin’s all sex is rape segregationist endeavors as it did with the No New York junkie down and outism that was the heart of post punk. Twenty years later, the riot girls were political feminists, not pop blonde on blonders.
This all came to mind as King Princess shouted to her audience, “let’s go lesbian today,” it all comes down as Mikaela states, as she does on her absolute genius “1950” and in interviews, “I hate it when dudes try to chase me”. It suggests, as does her concerts while she crows how everything is soooo gay, it is a sexuality that Jam Today would have wanted: away from the male gaze. The essentially young lesbian girls that made up the audience were so into Mikaela, the vibe was so intensely sexually while not being for for my gaze, it was hot in a place where the misconstrued pop fans finally got what they had really always wanted, a hip lesbian David Bowie (of that isn’t an oxymoron) type figure, a charming, emblematic superstar.
The entire evening was a tribute to the inclusiveness of LGBTQ. Opener, Melbourne’s Banoffee, began with just an acoustic guitar while coming on like three shades of Todd Haynes, before firing up her computer and swinging out on some really excellent beats, on record Banoffee is a little out there sometimes, but in person she dances her ass off. Next: Drag Queen West Dakota (sorry missed the name of the person to the right) was awe-inspiring entertainment How anybody could blow apart Irving Plaza by lip-syncing to “I Will Always Love You” won’t be understood till it is seen in all its multi-hued, tall and sexy glory:
King Princess opened the evening with a feint, the hook goes “I can make a grown man cry” which seems like at least an exercise in romantic awareness till you discover the new songs name is “Useless Phrases”. So it’s like that, right? Plus, Mikaela,a pop indie singer who can come across as a rocker, is signed to Mark Ronson’s Zelig Records, an imprint of Columbia Records. I worshipped Ronson circa “Toxic” and all that stuff with Amy Winehouse, but “Uptown Funk” was too blatant a rip off, it was like the soundtrack to an indie movie where they can’t afford the original musicians, in this case James Brown. But I’ll forgive him if he signs many more acts as great as King Princess. With all the buzz around Bikini Kill (and no, not, but maybe it should be, Bratmobile… not to mention pre-teen phenoms Care Bear Kids On Fire) the bedrock hard rocking band, featuring Antoine (from France apparently), as well as a guitarist, drummer, and first rate keyboard player, are an old school combo: the band isn’t riot grrrl, it isn’t punk, it is a distant cousin of hair metal meets classic rock when it rocks out, and it is fully accomplished restrained power ballad when it doesn’t. Two songs into the set, Mikaela claims to be messed up but I don’t much believe her, I guess maybe pot, but this is not a sloppy outing at all. The Brooklyn native who left us for LA (don’t get me started) knows that not only is this her hometown, it is also the center of the universe and if you fuck up here (pace Fiona at Roseland) you’ve fucked up everywhere and she doesn’t come close: it isn’t perfect yet it is still a constant fireworks explosion, an act of pure seduction where the audience are zonked out on desire and deliverance. Extended takes on “1950” and first song before the encore “Talia” are straight up showstoppers, jam band as pure poppist -both from her June 2018 EP Make My Bed. The single “Pussy Is God” blew my mind late last year. And if you add “Upper West Side” that makes four we know… OUT OF FIFTEEN. She skipped two on the EP, two Rise singles (man, she is ace at covers, try her “Femme Fatale”) are MIA and the other nine songs are brand new. Since she was playing with four sure shots through 70 minutes (usually she plays less songs and the add on, “Miss America” is a goodie -fifteen songs for King Princess is the equivalent of Springsteen’s four hour gig at MetLife -it’s about as far as she goes), how can she build momentum throughout the set? She can’t, not quite, and it burns her at the encore, Mikaela should have made “Talia” the first song of the encore and it would have lead her organically to the psychotronic, buzzy, druggy, Grateful Dead by other means “Ohio”. “Ohio” will undoubtedly (ok, possibly) be the penultimate song of the album when it is released later this year probably (ok, maybe) circa her Governors Ball gig.
None of these are major problems, of course, it is the difference between great and once in a lifetime. And anyway, you can teach a performer how to program a set, what you can’t teach any one is how to be an outstanding front person: King Princess is just plain astonishing in front of her band, and yes, we know, she’s preaching to the converted but so is everybody else, that’s what happens when you perform to your fans. I checked out her upcoming gigs -sold out all the way to April and nobody is surprised. She moves across the stage with the slitheriness of a Troye Sivan and the self confidence of a Mick Jagger, she plays loose with her audience, flirty, funny, but it is a very concentrated looseness, less improvisation and more improvising within a certain spieliness. And the girls, who just adore her, she lets them adore her and they love her for it. This isn’t a queer club like “Meow Mix,” or a Kathleen Hanna fence sitting, this is an all in rockstar being worshipped. The sad songs are sad but they aren’t sad sad, and they could be. In 2009, when Obama became President, I stupidly wrote that it was the end of racism. Well, my Great niece is a 16 year old lesbian and discrimination is about as dead as racism, appearances notwithstanding, After her girlfriend’s mom discovered love letters between the two all hell broke loose, her Auntie told me she was worried I would stop loving her if she came out to me… . When I took her and her girlfriend to Governors Ball last year, they were so happy to be able to be affectionate in public that it broke my heart. Being a lesbian in 2019 is not as easy as it might appear EVEN IN NEW YORK CITY (God help young genderqueers in Mobile, Alabama).These sad songs aren’t suicidal sad, they are heartbreak sad, and yes, still cathartic and the fast ones are sexy and fun and lively and altogether it gives these young women the freedom to be who they are, to scream “marry me” to shout “I’m so gay” at the top of their voices and to look on the stage and not see themselves, like I said Mikaela is a real star, but who they could be. It was wonderful for them.
Unfortunately for these teen girls, if King Princess comes close to this level of excellence on her debut album, she will be lost to them. Unless she plays the occasional lesbian club, her joy in the gayness of her performances will be gone, it will cross right over and the next voice that shouts “I want to marry you” may well be a male voice. Till then, it was a real joy to join these young girls in musical celebration from a top popstar. Somewhere Dusty Springfield is smiling.
Grade; A- (toldja the pacing was off)