Grammy-nominated three-piece, The Tiger Lillies, is one of the more interesting acts at this year’s Sydney Festival performing to full houses in the Famous Spiegeltent.
The show falls somewhere between a circus act and a gypsy troupe that astounds with the range of musical instruments you can pack into 75 minutes, including a saw. The performance is fast-paced and unrelenting, and aims to shock and awe as well as entertain.
The cult musical trio was formed in London in 1989 by singer-songwriter Martyn Jacques (on vocals, accordion, piano, guitar, harmonica, ukulele and banjolele), and includes Jonas Golland (drums, percussion and backing vocals) and the astounding Adrian Stout on double bass, backing vocals, jaw harp, musical saw and theremin.
Consummate musicians, their musical style embraces cabaret, vaudeville, music halls and street theatre. They have often been described as the forefathers of Brechtian Punk Cabaret, and are known for a unique sound that merges the macabre magic of pre-war Berlin with the savage edge of punk.
The show is unpredictable and fluctuates wildly between darkly comic falsetto wails and truly macabre and dark numbers as it presents “the best and worst songs” of their 27-year career, ranging from the dark and seedy but jolly “Heroine and Cocaine” to the irreverent “Banging in the Nails”.
But for me there was too much falsetto. Accordion-wielding ‘Criminal Castrato’ Martyn Jacques, has a fine voice but too many of the songs are delivered in a high-pitched falsetto that gets tedious after a while.
I would have welcomed more songs like “Teardrops”, which, sung straight. is powerful and evocative but somehow also confused the audience who seemed unsure whether to laugh or cry. I especially enjoyed the haunting strains of the saw and the more controversial and macabre songs like “The crack of doom”.
This show is perfect for those who are not easily shocked and are musically broadminded.
The Very Worst of The Tiger Lillies is at the Famous Spiegeltent until January 17.