I had another one of those amazing enlightening incredible drag show experiences on Friday night. The Chicago Kings, our local and absolutely fabulous king troupe, is disbanding and they had their final show along with a special guest troupe, the Cuntry Kings, from Durham, NC. As much as IDKE (the International Drag King Extravaganza) blew me away last year, this was maybe or at least almost better. In the year and a little bit since I saw that show, I have learned more and about gender, drag, and queerness than I can even express, and it has really made me more able to appreciate when I see something truly radical and transformative. The Chicago Kings specialize(d) in large group acts, generally very spectacular, sometimes political but also very often just about the amazing performance quality. The Cuntry Kings (who I now love and have made me re-think at least a few of my ways of considering North Carolina) are very political as well as very awesome as a group, and they tackled some incredible issues in some of their pieces through a combination of group effort and slideshow-type pictures and words projected behind them. The show lasted about four hours, but when it was over I wished it could just keep going, or at least be repeated on a regular basis for my enjoyment. I know this is going to be a superlong post, but I want to tell about a few of the acts. So amazing...
It started out with Another One Bites the Dust by Queen, with the Chicago Kings. Most of them were dressed as bugs, with a few exterminators. The bugs were all killed off by the exterminators, but the bugs got some revenge too (my drag teacher from last year got her arms ripped off) before everybody resurrected to sing We Are the Champions together. Next were the Cuntry Kings as gay soccer players (a song called Soccer Practice by a guy who calls himself the Gay Pimp), Tainted Love (the Marilyn Manson version) with a girl acting as puppeteer for her boyfriend, then Madonna's Vogue with 18th-century dress and a dildo for good measure.
Next was the first political piece from the Cuntry Kings, Britney Spears' Toxic, retexted as a piece about tampons and cigarettes. Awesome! There was somebody dressed as a vagina being chased by someone dressed as a tampon, a giant cigarette being rushed menacingly at people, and choreographed dance with everybody smoking and text behind them telling what horrible chemicals reside in these products. Especially neat because, as they pointed out, they are from tobacco country and also because big tobacco backs a lot of right-wing groups backing anti-gay-marriage initiatives.
The Chicago Kings followed up with Pink's Family Portrait with a Star Wars theme, with Luke and Darth Vader duking it out with lightsabers while Princess Leia cringed and sang the song and gestured. The next few pieces were good but not outstanding in the course of the show, but the next awesome thing was again from the Cuntry Kings. It was Whitney Houston's It's Not Right, but It's Okay. There was a Betsy Ross sewing onstage, then Uncle Sam and his wife, the Statue of Liberty, interacting in not-cool ways with their black maid, who was singing the song. By the end, she had rejected them and told them off, while people with Racism?, Classism?, Fat-phobic?, and Ageism? on the backs of their shirts danced around them. The maid took of her shirt to reveal a large heart and the words "Self-Love" on her chest, and then they all held up the flag and revealed that it had inspirational statements along the same lines all over it. I'm realizing as I write this that I can't really describe how awesome this was; I saw it at IDKE last year and it made a huge impression, but I can't convey that in my writing about it. I hope it at least makes sense and doesn't sound too cheesy.
Next was a neat piece with a bunch of the Chicago Kings dressed as cyborgs, with one cyborg breaking free and acquiring volition and somebody (my ex-teacher!) as a kind of flame-goddess encouraging him. Last year, we watched part of that one in class, and she told us that the Kings have a hard time convincing people to be the femme characters but she had been totally psyched to be a femme goddess, so I was happy for her that she got to do it again :-)
After intermission, there was a piece of spoken word by Neeve, a superawesome king from North Carolina whose stage name is Pat Riarch and who I have read and seen movies about. I get a rush from seeing people I've heard so much about, and he and his troupe were just so cool, so it was just so great to see them. The next piece involved Chicago Kings in 19th century period outfits and people with wings on, and then... Madonna's Like a Prayer with the Virgin Mary, a dominatrix nun and two homoerotic catholic schoolgirls. Priceless!
The next was the Chicago Kings, doing an Eminem song called Lose Yourself while dressed as sperm. The chorus says something about how you only have "one shot," and basically there was this one sperm who beat out all the other sperms to break through the giant ovum onstage. There were also skateboards involved. It was just so perfect in terms of song content matching (but in such an unusual way) with the content of the act. The audience was cracking up. This was followed by Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal, also the Chicago Kings.
The next piece was so emotionally involving. It was the Black Eyed Peas' Let's Get Retarded, and the background was all pictures of people with disabilities and phrases about the terrible things that people with disabilities undergo every day while the kings acted such things out. It was amazingly emotional, and such an unexpectedly harsh but also sympathetic look at something we ignore so often. I would never have guessed a year ago that drag could deliver such messages with so much emotional power, but it can and does. The next Chicago Kings piece was Frontier Psychiatrist (the Avalanches) about the misuse of doctoral powers, which was just trippy as hell. Then the Cuntry Kings again, Black Velvet, which was about femme (lesbian) invisibility and violence towards women, which ended with the message that you shouldn't be forced to hide your body. Damn! I still am overwhelmed.
There was a song called Boom Boom in Spanish by one of the original Chicago Kings, and then a piece of clown drag by Harley Poker and Pussy Galore that I for one thoroughly enjoyed. The Cuntry Kings wrapped up with Michael Jackson's Thriller, which I have to say I was kind of disappointed in in contrast to the other pieces they performed. The Chicago Kings ended it all with the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Love Rollercoaster, the first thing I ever saw them perform last year. They were all connected by these stretchy bands, and it was so awesomely choreographed. It was my third time seeing that act, and I still just love it.
There were acts that I wished were in this best-of show, like the version of Green Day's American Idiot that was essentially a criticism of mainstream media or this duo performance of The Teaches of Peeches/Barracuda/Close to You with two women fighting and hitting each other with lollypops and things before reconciling that makes me laugh my ass off every time I see it. But, I suppose it's hard to cull out your favorite acts from 5 years of performing. I think my "review" has focused on the Cuntry Kings more, but that's only because they were more political and that's easier for me to describe than a purely spectacle piece from the Chicago Kings.
I am a little heartbroken that this can't be recreated, that the Kings are gone. I learned so much from and because of this particular troupe, and I just want them to keep doing this forever. Anna and I are hoping to go to IDKE next year in Austin, which will be awesome I'm sure, but I feel attached to this troupe. The four founders, Izzie Big, Maxx Hollywood (Anna and I love Maxx!), Harley Poker, and Pussy Galore, looked close to tears as they ended the show. It's the end of something special, even though drag in Chicago is certainly not over. It's just different, you know?