Shock princess


August 3, 2001



Recoiling in horror after the Chicago debut by Peaches, who opened for Elastica at the Park West last fall, I hauled off and let her have it with both barrels in my review.

"Elastica needs to be reprimanded for foisting on its fans one of the worst opening acts I've ever witnessed," I railed. "Peaches is a self-professed `Canadian jackass' relocated from Toronto to Berlin, where, in the manner of art-damaged Germans, her humorless, talentless rapping is being hailed as a brilliant avant-garde parody of American something or other.

"In fact, this sort of risque in-your-face performance art--beat box, bad rapping, minimal synth, and a film of a woman urinating--would have been considered pretentious and played out at New York's Mudd Club in 1979."

But a funny thing happened when a friend persuaded me to give the former Merrill Nisker's debut album a second chance: "The Teaches of Peaches" (Kitty-Yo) made me a bona fide fan.

Translating much better on album than it did at the Park West, Peaches' way-too-dirty-to-quote-here songs emerged as brilliantly twisted, smart and funny spoofs of the ultra-macho gangsta-rap pose. Finally, I got it: Peaches was playing the big boys' game by their rules, and she was besting them! So what went wrong that first time in Chicago?

"That actually went down in history as the worst show at that club ever!" Peaches says, laughing. "There was a joke going around among the staff: `Could anything ever be as bad as Peaches?'

"What we were trying to do on that Elastic tour was never play the same song twice. By the time we got to the fourth night, which was Chicago, we were doing these songs that we weren't really sure about, but we really wanted to push ourselves. Chicago just happened to be the location that got the brunt of that. Plus, you could tell that people hated us, and we were kind of into that."

Peaches went on to build a devoted following in Chicago through subsequent shows at the Fireside Bowl and the Empty Bottle, and her music has caught on in certain ultra-hip circles here the same way that it's been embraced in Europe.

"I have nothing to do with the fashion world, and all of a sudden I was on Prada and Givenchy catwalks as the song of the season," Peaches says in a charming and self-deprecating manner that's dramatically at odds with her baddest-of-the-bad-girls stage persona. "Suddenly all these distinguished designers are paying attention to me!"

There's more than a little irony here, since Peaches' preferred stage outfit is an unbelievably gaudy hot-pink bathing suit that she bought for less than $20.

"Now I'm going to be selling underwear on this tour--$15 a pair," she says. "This designer, Louella Bartlett, she was writing my lyrics on her clothes--I opened Jane magazine and saw my lyrics on her models! So I thought, `I should just do that!'

"I'm not really complaining about any good things happening; I'm not trying to sue people. To me, it's flattering, and it's also like, `What?' But [Bartlett] was cool, and she gave me clothes and showed me the video of her show and stuff. I'm more upset with the other people who didn't even contact me or say, `Thanks for the music.' "

Peaches is working on her sophomore album now, but she doesn't plan to alter the approach of her debut--so far, the music is still just her vocals and the simple grooves crafted on a Roland MC 505 beat box. The million-dollar question: Does she have anything to rap about besides sex?

"I really find that talking about sex puts a spin on a lot of other things," Peaches says. "People can look at it as a conceptual art thing or a political thing--talking about sex has made me more of a conduit for other people's projections about sex. So it's not just sex, it's about everything in life."

What proportion of the audience gets the message behind the satirical come-ons?

"Whatever they get is fine with me," Peaches says. "I can't tell people what they get, and I think it's cool when people get it on their own level. Like, in Scandinavia, there is always one guy in front of the stage going, `Take it off, Peaches! Show us your [charms]!'

"It's so funny, because in no way am I a porno star. These macho men are finding me sexy just because I'm saying, `Hey, look, I'm wearing a slit in my skirt!' There are these signifiers that say `sexy.' It's sort of like Pavlov's dog."

Is there artistic life for Merrill Nisker after Peaches?

"When I started Peaches, I was really thinking not too far into the future," the performer says. "It was more like, `I'm here now; let's blow the wad!' I'm just gonna see how far I can take this, and if it gets to be a caricature and if I'm not into it, then we'll see what happens. Right now, I have a burning artistic need, but I can see how actually living out these things that you wanted to live out can change you."

* * *

Two other events of note in the coming days: Schubas' third annual "Summer on Southport" music festival, and the 20-year anniversary party for the hard-rocking fanzine, Your Flesh.

The focus of any evening at Schubas (3159 N. Southport) is the music, and the festival maintains this tradition, on the club's stage as well as outdoors. Things kick off inside at 10 tonight with the Bottle Rockets, alternative country's answer to the Ramones and Motorhead, and the only slightly mellower Delta 88.

Saturday, Ralph Covert starts the day with a set of kids' music at 3 p.m., followed by lovable Chicago tunesmith Chris Mills, Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub, Bonnie "Prince" Billy (a k a the wiggy Will Oldham) and, wrapping things up indoors, the Starch Martins.

On Sunday, Justin Roberts offers another cool set for the kids starting at 3 p.m., followed by former Meat Puppet Curt Kirkwood, Scott Miller & the Commonwealth, the inimitable Neko Case & Her Boyfriends, and inside, the local supergroup Swag, featuring Robert Reynolds of the Mavericks and former Wilco vet Ken Coomer.

Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door, and $5 for children under 12 on Saturday and Sunday. A three-day pass is also available for $30. Call (773) 525-2508.

Having relocated from Minneapolis to Chicago, band manager, entrepreneur, raconteur and Your Flesh publisher Peter Davis will be celebrating two decades worth of fanzining at Delilah's, 2771 N. Lincoln, starting at 8 p.m. Thursday.

Expect raffles, lots of loud music, and maybe some free copies of the always entertaining mag and the recent compilation album, "Hangin' from the Devil's Tree," which features mostly exclusive contributions from Your Flesh fans such as Thurston Moore, Rocket from the Crypt, the Bell Rays, Monster Magnet, Goatsnake, Supersuckers, and Bardo Pond.