How long can she keep the joke up? Does internet fame translate into IRL talent? Does something that starts as a gimmick have a chance at evolving into music that is actually moving?Leslie Hall’s ongoing tour is a glitzy, sparkly referendum on these questions. Acting as both a parody and celebration of Midwestern culture in her youtube videos, Leslie plays a character that is simultaneously pathetic in her attention-seeking delusion like a Saturday Night Live housewife (I’M FIFTY! FIFTY YEARS OLD!) and genuinely talented as a rapper and beat maker. She’s like the anti-Peaches, taking something that should be tawdry and making it funny, but both chicks have the ability to make a cheap-ass drum-machine sound like a Pharrell track. Anyway, I was ready to enjoy myself Saturday night at DC 9, but not to be blown away. Let the record reflect: I was a fool.
By the time Hello Tokyo went on the place was packed solid with gay men and hipster chicks in bedazzled headbands and argyle sweaters.The band put on a pretty energetic show, but musically weren’t at all my kind of thing, so I squeezed downstairs to interview some of the people dressed like a Cosby Christmas special. “Are you here for Leslie and the Lys?” I wittily asked a bookish pair of girls who looked like woolen snowmen. “Yes! We haven’t seen her before, I’m like so stoked.” “Because she’s funny or because you like her music?” She shrugged. Stupid question. Would she be funny if her music wasn’t so unique and clever?
One quiet bespectacled guy standing near the door peering anxiously down the streets didn’t look like a Leslie fan. When I asked him who he was there for, he explained that he was just, “waiting for my DJ.” Was he the promoter of the show? “No, I’m just here to give him absinthe.” Whoa. Apparently after Leslie a member of the amazing NYC gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello was going to be playing world music electronica and this dude was here just to give him some of his very rare and genuine absinthe. Of course that leads me to only one important question: Can I have some? “Sure, come find me when the DJ comes on.” Sick life.
When I got back upstairs the stage was empty and a sort of giddy hush had descended on the crowd. After the bar owner’s introduction, two gold plated cuties came shimmying through the crowd guiding a lumpy sheath of felt which they positioned stage-center. Everyone started screaming as they hit play on a laptop and slowly but undramatically helped Leslie emerge from the weird cocoon. “To those of you who have just wandered in, I want to welcome you to INTERNET MAJESTY,” she intoned, somehow speaking in all caps. The Lys got on either side of the stage and began boogieing minimally as Leslie’s magnificence strapped on a gold-encrusted Madonna headset and poured her fucking heart out through her body.
I’m trying to find words to describe the following spectacle, but it’s hard to do. The closest thing I’ve seen is Elvez, the Hispanic Elvis, in like 1996 before he became a total parody. They both manage to be larger than life characters that many would consider ridiculous, but to their fans and in their own minds they represent something dead serious, or at least importantly humorous. DC 9 was the perfect venue for Leslie’s show, in that the crackling of their terrible sound system and low stage only helped her make her point further: that glamour can transcend cheapness and kitch, if you like, clap your hands and move your booty hard enough.
The show was executed as flawlessly as it could be, but when the intricate synchronized dance moves missed, or when Leslie shrieked “Hit Play!” and the Ly closest to the laptop had to jab the button a few times to get it started, it fit perfectly with the experience. “For those of you who can’t see, my lower half is ON FIRE.” Literally nothing could go wrong for her, since every mistake or awkwardness could be covered up by bravado, or by a proclamation—after muttering some exhausted nonsense, “Poetry!” She made grotesque faces, pretended to be a tornado, draped a matching cape over her gold lamé jumpsuit and huddled in the back of the stage before a fake encore, and shook and shook her ample ass until sweat was flying off it like a halo. The crowd, in one of those rare DC miracles, did what they were supposed to do and flipped the fuck out: dancing, leaping onstage, mouthing every line to B-sides, singing along in call-and-response passages that even Leslie looked surprised were being returned so intensely.
Again, this is only possible because she can put words and music together congenially; wannabes do not try this at home.After the show I managed to grab a couple of seconds with her in the backstage room (get your mind out of the gutter people! Sadly we had chaperones…) and she said that all her stuff is made in Garageband. “I hear my beats in other people’s music all the time!” she said. This is crazy to me, like finding out Aphex Twin is just using the preset demo on a Casio keyboard. Asked about the choreography, she chortled, “Choreography? I just watch Justin Timberlake videos and rip things off.” Only fitting, since his handlers are doubtlessly doing the same thing with Michael Jackson tapes. She can downplay it all she wants, she’s clearly head, shoulders, and bouffant above the spate of other geek-rappers and internet jokestars. I’d like to see the Obama girl rock a party for an hour with nothing but an ipod!
After Leslie exploded her lady business all over the unsuspecting city, Pedro from Gogol Bordello started bumping some amazing stuff, gypsy and Eastern European songs over reggaeton and electro beats with some afro-pop and European disco thrown in.I’m probably sleeping on it but I don’t think there are any dance parties in DC with this theme, and we desperately need some. I found my absinthe wielding friend (who is apparently a legend at DC 9, random chicks kept sidling up to him with knowing, needy looks) and made the solid effort of three small shots of the stuff before my mind started to disappear into a kaleidoscopic waveform of hypnotic beauty. Who was that standing on stage doing an imitation line-dance and clapping like Zorba the Greek? Oops.
After I came to across the city staring into a Budweiser bottle at Jimmy Valentine’s, I tried to imagine what the future could hold for Leslie’s act. The thing is, she can only tour so long on the gimmick factor, which she doesn’t need to do since her music is legitimately catchy and fun all by itself. Seriously! Listen to Blame it On the Booty from her new album or Shazam I’m Glamorous from an older one. It’s possible that with an actual studio budget she could blossom into the Slim Shady of Midwestern chicks, gay men, and dorks like me who appreciate that cleverness can be magical despite the supposedly ironic stance of the delivery.
A few more Hello Tokyo shots:
All photos by Joel Didriksen