August 3, 2001
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
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
"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
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.