Friday, January 17, 2003
Things learned from starting a glam rock band:
1. Wearing bubble wrap and women's underwear onstage, though garishly naughty, can be unbearably cold.
2. Out of smokes? Write a song about chain smoking and con the crowd into throwing cigarettes onstage during the song.
3. The key to successfully designing a three-foot fire-breathing phallus is the fireproofing.
"You have to have a flame-proof polymer on the tip so that it doesn't burn up on entry," said Mercury, lead singer and ringleader for the Lawrence glam band Vibralux.
So when Vibralux unleashes its "Flaming Slog of Death" Tuesday at the Bottleneck, 737 N.H., its devoted minions can bask in its fiery glory without worry of a sudden blaze engulfing the wood-fabricated bar.
"When we played Tunes at Noon (outside of KU's Student Union) they said it was an insurance hazard and we wouldn't get paid," said Mercury.
"And they were right. It IS a fire hazard."
'These go to 11'
In the tradition of famed shock-rockers like Spinal Tap and Kiss, Vibralux has grown accustomed to pushing the limits of what is acceptable. As Lawrence's only gigging glam rock band, it is in a unique position to set the bar and then hurdle it in the same night. Concerned parents can thank their lucky stars that Vibralux doesn't have the same budget as Ziggy Stardust.
"One idea was to have four piston-style phalluses rocking up and down by the drums at the beginning of the show," said Mercury. "And then right when the show starts they explode and shoot flaming balls of fire out the top of them, and then the entire band emerges from a giant foam vagina at the back of the stage."
"I told you it was bad. I'm sorry. But these are the things we talk about."
But concentrating solely on the shock value of Vibralux would overlook the higher purpose of the band: to challenge and defy traditional gender roles.
"Gender issues have been a part of my life since I entered high school," Mercury said. "It was a way of being able to express the problems I dealt with as a male having a mom who had to be sort of my dad, too. I got slammed into lockers a lot when I was younger for being gay just because I was in theater or was effeminate or wore crazy clothes. My escape from dealing with that crap was being onstage."
From Jesus in "Godspell" to the talking plant in "Little Shop of Horrors," Mercury didn't shy from portraying diverse personalities.
"Mercury has wonderful empathy. He can put himself in anybody's shoes," bandmate Atom Smashing said.
|The showWhat: VibraluxWhen: 9 p.m. TuesdayWhere: The Bottleneck, 737 N.H.Ticket price: $3 for underage/$5 for over 21Ticket information: 841-LIVE|
That empathy translated into an ability to write lyrics from a kaleidoscope of perspectives.
"In one evening's worth of music you're going to hear something obviously gender-neutral, something very gay, something bisexual and something straight," Mercury said. "We are all the same people, we just have different preferences."
Spontaneously combusting drummers
Vibralux formed 11 months ago when Mercury brainstormed a concept and began auditioning members.
"I wanted people who looked good in makeup and could learn a song in 15 minutes," Mercury said.
Atom Smashing was the first to catch the singer's attention. Though Mercury was apprehensive at first about having a synth bass, the idea grew on him as the songs began taking shape. Second guitarist LeXXXis joined the band after an impromptu jam session with Mercury on Mass. Street.
The newly formed group dubbed itself Vibralux ("a cross between a sex toy and a vacuum cleaner," Smashing said) and played its first show on an apartment balcony overlooking the alley behind Arizona Trading Company, 734 Mass. Passers-by may have mistaken the group for a renegade Kabuki theater troupe with their white face makeup.
"We'd been together for two weeks and we only had 30 minutes worth of stuff," Mercury recalled. "The crowd yelled at us for stopping, so we played the whole set twice."
Though he felt nervous for the first few shows, Smashing took comfort in the fact that he didn't have to be the center of attention.
"You can't be self-conscious onstage because anything you do Mercury will outshine. He's absolutely fearless," Smashing said. "Once the music starts I don't think the costume matters. All of the apprehension is at the beginning of the show and the discussion of whether we played well enough comes after the show."
As the band developed a following, Mercury invested more and more of his theater background into Vibralux's set design and costuming. He began carrying a sketchbook to do pencil and ink renderings of costume and makeup ideas, some of which were derived from Victoria's Secret catalogs and CK magazines.
"We'll be hanging out and he's drawing pictures of this new idea he's got," Smashing said.
The only Achilles' heel of the band turned out to be finding a compatible drummer. Though Smashing maintains that the first two spontaneously combusted, the truth is that the first just wasn't into it and the second moved away. The third and current drummer M.A.sheen was initially hesitant to wear make-up and women's clothing, but he relented after finding it to be great fun.
Since resolving its rhythm section dilemma, the band has developed two-and-a-half hours worth of material, including covers of songs by New York Dolls, T-Rex, David Bowie and Lou Reed and original songs such as "Fascionista" and "Transvestite Boyfriend." The ensemble plans on releasing its first album, featuring 20 original songs, in March.
New ideas are the currency that keeps Vibralux churning. One new rule of conduct stipulates that band members who go home with a date after a show are to raid that person's closet while they are asleep and steal a piece of clothing to be worn at the next show.
"If we run out of things to do, we're not trying hard enough," Smashing said.
So far the band has heard more praise than criticism for pushing the envelope. Although its message is one of tolerance, Mercury worries that it's only a matter of time before Vibralux will attract protesters. But if they come, don't expect the band members to hang up their bras and garter belts.
"If somebody doesn't like it they can go (expletive) themselves because this is my thing, and it doesn't really matter to me whether anybody else has done it before," he said. "I honestly would encourage everybody to be what they are and to not apologize for it. Enjoy the company of people who are not like you."