Hooray for all things fantastic, glittering, sexy and demented. Wednesday night the Rev Room hosted Pretty Things Peep Show, a decadent display of seedy Americana, spiked with the spirits of circus trains and sideshow tricks, saloon girls, pin-up bombshells, B-films, whisky nights and rock 'n' roll.
Pretty Things has been around since 2009, when Go Go Amy, a veteran of theater and burlesque dreamt it into existence after a summer of dancing with Warped Tour and Ozzfest. But it’s more a freakish variety show than a burlesque cabaret. Heather Holliday and Donny Vomit — both hailing from Coney Island’s Circus Sideshow — swallow swords, juggle sharp objects, breath fire and shove nails up their noses. Well, in this show Ms. Holiday swallows swords and breathes fire, and Mr. Vomit juggles daggers and flosses his nasal cavity with various objects, including a (clean) condom. "We can both do all of those things, but in shows Donny gets to do the gross 'boy' stuff," Heather Holliday explained. "They gave me sword swallowing because you know, I'm a cute little girl. People want to see the girl swallow the sword."
Do they ever. The men in the audience were vocally appreciative of Ms. Holliday’s talents. The fact that she performs in sparkly bustiers, cat-eyed glasses and mini nurse uniforms probably didn’t hurt.
Holliday, 26, has an aura of retro rockabilly, complete with multiple tattoos and a bouncy fringe. She hails from New York, where she got her start as a high school intern with the Coney Island show. By 19, she was a featured sword swallower. (She explained that the sword actually goes into her stomach, and it’s better to perform on a full stomach, since full stomachs generate more saliva.) Go Go Amy — all inked porcelain skin, piled copper hair and coy expressions — offered classic burlesque, peeling off thigh highs and twirling handmade pasties. Little Miss Firefly, the 27-inch tap dancing diva, swallows balloons and exudes sass, whirling about the stage in an emerald gown and purple boa. It’s not all an act either. Off-stage, I saw her grab opener Eddy Price by the tie and drag.
In between bawdy jokes and admiring his handlebar mustache (oh wait, I was the one mustache-admiring), Vomit let Holliday toss knives at his groin — something that she’s only been practicing since last summer, she confessed after the show, so it still makes her nervous. The whole show had a bit of an anxious edge, betraying it's punk rock roots. The cast travels from college town to college town, passing a hat to help pay for gas (“Join a sideshow. You can make literally dozens of dollars a day,” Vomit quips). They play any venue with a stage big enough to accommodate, they’re approachable and easy to chat with off-stage, and they even make their own costumes and merch (pasties and glamour lips for all).
Their opener actually was rock 'n' roll, as well as being one of the best parts of the evening. Usually Price plays with southern Indiana psychobilly outfit Th' Empires, but on the Peep Show circuit he does a one-man band thing. I've seen a handful of one-man bands, and Price is among the best. Nothing suffers for lack of more bodies — not the fullness of sound, the showmanship or the raw energy level. Which means that Price's appeal goes beyond the inherent sideshow element of being able to kick drums at the same time that he's roughing up a guitar and growling into an old-school mic. The sound: throwback garage licks couched in extra distortion, delivered fast and punky, upbeat and danceable. The look: head flinging and impossibly blurred fingers. The lyrics: fun and funny, and oh wait, did he just mention Suicide Girls?
I found it difficult to remain in my chair and play nice, but I knew the ass-shaking was better left to Go Go Amy. And shortly after, she sure delivered.
Video and more pictures after the jump.