Kiki & Herb: Live at the Knitting Factory (2009) DVD
Justin Bond/Kenny Mellman
List Price: $16.95
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Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman are Kiki & Herb, worldwide smash punk rebel entertainers, cabaret outsiders, and subversive pop stars who rock stages all over the world. Join the Tony-nominated duo at the epicenter of their madness for their first-ever live DVD from the Knitting Factory in New York City. Featuring 15 numbers from their incendiary Year of Magical Drinking Tour including "Rhythm Divine," "Song Against Sex," "I'm Ugly (and I Don't Know Why)" and more.
A few years back, I had the pleasure of attending Kiki & Herb: Alive From Broadway during its run in Boston. I came away with the conclusion that the show was robbed (robbed!) of a 2007 Tony Award by the vastly inferior Jay Johnson: the Two and Only.
I was particularly impressed by Justin Bond as the eponymous Kiki. Bond is more than just a drag act: he's a consummate performer who embodies an uncannily credible character who is every bit as fierce as she is vulnerable.
For the uninitiated, Kiki & Herb comprise Bond and pianist Kenny Melman, a post-Modern cabaret duo who have been performing together since the early '90s. Most of the songs that the pair perform have failed to register permanently in my consciousness, despite multiple viewings, although Kiki does do a terrific rendition of the Bonnie Tyler power ballad "Total Eclipse of the Heart."
Perhaps my memory lapse stems from Kiki & Herb's preferred volume level, which I can best describe as "piercing." This was quite irksome when I saw them live, but at least with the DVD I can turn down the volume. Melman in particular seems to favor a key-pounding, throat-scraping, microphone-chewing delivery that I'm sure is deliberate, but that doesn't mean it's entertaining. Also, for some reason, both performers appear on the DVD with rather obvious, unconvincing aging makeup, which basically consists of a series of unblended black lines scrawled across their faces. Again, intentional to be sure, but somewhat inscrutable. Although the effect was the same on the stage and the lines were clearly visible. It's just part of the act. And it's brilliant!
But all of that stuff of misses the point of Kiki & Herb, which for me is really all about Bond and his seemingly rambling, interstitial monologues, which at any given time might rail against the Bush administration, issue forth a demand for marriage equality, or regale the faithful with sacrilegious claims of Kiki knowing a certain gentle carpenter the Biblical sense. The overall effect is alternately mystical and nihilistic, reverential and profane. Bond's patter alone makes the DVD worth the price, but there are also some fascinating special features that serve as a sort of video history of the evolution of the Kiki character.
Kiki and Herb certainly aren't to everyone's taste, but for those who are willing to venture beyond your typical, safe cabaret show, there's a wealth of pleasure to be had therein. Just keep the volume control handy.