In a career that spans 25 years The Tiger Lillies have created a self-contained universe that’s populated by prostitutes, murderers, and men who like to put hamsters where the sun doesn’t shine.
It’s a twisted cabaret world that’s worth a visit but only the brave would remain, with frontman Martyn Jacques being the sole surviving original member. There’s also no doubt that he’s the ringmaster, with contrabassist Adrian Stout and drummer Mike Pickering struggling to establish a stage presence.
This creates a problem in such an outlandishly theatrical trio, which is exacerbated by them touring a ‘worst of’ set, for which their usual concept performance pieces are redundant.
Where they’ve previously had video animations and puppets to support song-cycles based on Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Frank Wedekind’s Lulu, here they have nothing but each other and a thin smear of gothic face paint.
These shortcomings aren’t really felt during the first half of the two-hour set. Here the Tom Waits-ian accordion blues of ‘Jealousy’ is like an X-rated outtake from Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride soundtrack, and the vaudevillian ‘Pervert’ sees Jacques dispassionately enquire in an unearthly falsetto, “Can I abuse you/At least once?”
It’s when they put the black humour and impudence to one side, however, that they make the deepest cuts. Their straight piano cover of Andy Williams’ ‘My Funny Valentine’ brings a genuine sense of melancholy to their set and ‘Eternity’, which brings a macabre sensibility to REM’s ‘Everybody Hurts’, shows an elegant musicianship.
This glimmer of humanity is in increasingly short supply during the second half of the set, for which a deliberately provocative and heartless nature settles over the material. Tracks such as ‘Heroin And Cocaine’ might constitute the band’s greatest hits but, sadly, they undersell their subtlety and sometime ethereal beauty.
Gig date: March 17