Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Tony Clifton and the Katrina Kiss-My-Ass Orchestra
Revolution Hall
September 12, 2008

“There’ll be about 50 people there,” I told my co-pilot, “and I’ll know 45 of them.” I wasn’t far from wrong. It’s been 24 years since Andy Kaufman died, and longer than that since his lounge-cretin creation Tony Clifton made a lot of smelly noise. The idea of a Tony Clifton tour in 2008 was so ludicrous, in fact, that I just had to go see what it was all about. That and the possibility of even a little dose of Kaufman-esqe humor, thrown at us from beyond the grave, would be so much better than the tepid, cowardly crap that passes for comedy today.

It’s hard to know where to begin. Show of the year? Absolutely. Of the decade? Maybe. Seriously. This was a 3 ½ hour performance art piece, a steamroller of deconstructed pop culture in the form of broads, killer funk, disgusting jokes, booze, smokes, more broads, brilliantly absurd choreography (performed by one or more broads), suspended uncomfortable moments (fueled by booze and broads), and transcendental musical moments (yanked out of inconsequential 70’s pop songs) all swirling around a fat, sweaty, greasy-haired chain-smoking loud-mouthed drunk. You just can’t beat that.

It was theater, with the various broads (that’s what they’re called and there’s really no better word) changing costumes constantly, never letting up with their show-girl smiles, and dancing around Tony to “punctuate” the songs; the sparkly cowgirls sliding hobby-horses between their legs during the repeated reprieves of “Rhinestone Cowboy,” for example, was particularly memorable. Or the high-kicking statues of liberty in pasties during the rousing “God Bless America.”

There’ve been reports of chaos at other shows, with Tony melting down and furiously attacking the audience or his ensemble, events that were unscripted and quite real. We only got a taste of that half-way through the second show, when Tony cruelly berated “Trixie,” his onstage assistant / cocktail waitress in garters, whom he claimed to have picked up hitch-hiking outside of Biloxi and was about to adopt. She’d been flicking empty shot glasses to the “crowd” while Tony was “singing”, and Tony got highly agitato. The band got quiet, Trixie left (not to return), Tony mumbled for a few minutes, poured himself another drink, then led the band through a torrid “I Will Survive.” It was perfectly, astonishingly weird. There wasn’t a false move on anybody’s part the whole night; for all of its artifice, and the show was ostensibly entirely artifice, it was the most real show I’ve seen in a long, long time.

This would all have been meaningless stupidity if the band didn’t kick. As this was a fundraising tour for New Orleans musicians, Clifton had a young, aggressive band of them, and they turned the most trifling of pop fluff into withering, funky masterpieces. The five piece horn section was all over the place, more than once assembling in a circle on the dance floor blasting to a crushing vamp, while Clifton sat on a bar stool, beaming, with a bourbon in one hand and a smoke in the other. All was right in this perverse, totally wrong, totally refreshing parallel universe late on a Friday night in Troy, New York.


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