Director: Mark Holthusen
Reviewer: Jay Nutall
The Tiger Lillies have always been notoriously difficult to categorise. Their style crosses so many genres that, paradoxically, it has become a genre itself. Since their conception in 1989 this trio have been described as the forefathers of Brechtian punk cabaret with a style that merges macabre magic of pre-war Berlin with the savage edge of punk. As niche as this may sound they have been commissioned by HOME in Manchester to create Corrido de la Sangre as part of their Viva! Spanish and Latin American Festival.
Like the band itself Corrido de la Sangre is difficult to pin down. Part gig, part theatrical event, it consists of thetrio dressed as Mexican style skeletons akin to the culture of the day of the dead celebrations. The show begins with Day of the Dead – an introduction to the underworld they now inhabit and throughout the piece their music is peppered with macabre and other-worldly undertones. Writer Pedar Bjurman has created a loose storyline of a band becoming embroiled in the murky drug cartel underworld and with a lady called Maria and as the story progresses we pick up nuggets of information of the band becoming filled with bullet lead as they are murdered and travel to the afterlife.
The band play nineteen tracks one after the other, occasionally punctuated by a subtitled narrative voice-over or plot developments narrated by a member of the band but the ‘theatricality’ of the event is largely due to the spectacular projections used throughout the production. Director and video projection creator Mark Holthusen has created a visually gorgeous art installation that lives and breathes around the trio. Mexican idolatry is fused with marionette puppets that help tell the story like a living picture book, informing the lyrics and feel of the band’s music. It looks stunning.
As musicians and performer The Tiger Lillies are theatrical in their performances. Lead singer and accordionist Martyn Jacques has a distinct falsetto singing voice that adds another level of eccentricity to the already unusual make-up. Multi-instrumentalist and bass player Adrian Stout demonstrates his outstanding musicianship and frees himself up with loop pedals keeping his bass rhythm going whilst he plays uncommon instruments like the jaws harp, the theremin or the saw creating a spooky netherworld colouring the band’s journey into the spirit world. And percussionist Jonas Golland has enormous fun with a portable drum kit and cajon. Side-lit they are an eerie, dream-like, European inspired gothic combination of souls. The songs are flooded with sadness and mystery and all with Mexican mariachi flair as we come under The Spell of Maria or realise the Devil’s Bargain.
One lyric stands out and sums up Corrido de la Sangre: “Hell’s house band play our songs”. This is ninety minutes in the company of hell’s house band guiding us through the passing from life to death in their unique Tiger Lillies style. It falls between neither being a piece of theatre with a satisfying through-story, nor is it a gig with a mixture of songs. The Tiger Lillies continue to make theatrical inspired work in their own style that, thirty years on, is still as matchless as it always was.
Reviewed on 25 April 2015 | Image: Contributed