Fifteen years into her recording career as Peaches, gender-blurring role model for female ageing, Merrill Nisker is still managing to command plenty of attention with her well received fifth album Rub, presented virtually in its entirety tonight. A series of entertaining music videos with her familiar parade of clits, dicks and chicks with dicks has been rolling out since the summer, providing the template for much of the visual side of her current show.
The first costume of the night is so pure Disney villain – Jafar-meets-Emperor Zurg-meets-Mothra, if you like – that it helps Peaches do what she does best: tower over her audience like a pantomime villainess. However, while still imperious, she doesn’t come across in the least intimidating, presenting a curiously approachable version of female power and graphic sexuality. It may have lost its power to offend and disturb, but Peaches’ stock lyrical and visual flow has always been of the willy, bum, fanny variety. What might have seemed like some genuine gender/bodyshock back in the day has mellowed into a cuddlier, more rounded version that isn’t far off being family friendly, despite the explicitness.
When the two backing dancers (one buxom and female, the other impish, bearded and male) leap into the fray for Vaginoplasty, they are costumed as giant silken vaginas, flapping the labia open with their arms and vigorously shaking red clitori next to their heads. It’s a hoot, rather than an assault, that has the effect of a Sesame Street for the sexually aware: if tonight was some kind of lesson, it was brought to you by the letter ‘O’ and the word ‘vagina’.
Those still coming to Peaches looking for any sort of depth are probably missing the point: she has settled into ‘ringmistress of genito-centric party pieces’ as raison-d’être, and plumbing these depths in 2015 probably isn’t going to unearth many surprises. The focus has shifted to spectacle, with the girthiest of all the props tonight being a giant inflatable sausage skin that spreads over the audience during Dick In The Air, reaching almost as far back as the rear bar and penetrating the whole space. Peaches crawls into it, indulging in some impressive crowd-perching, although it’s a shame she doesn’t make it as far as the exit hole at the end, from where she might have flobbed climatically over the audience.
You suspect that the natural home for this kind of show will be the festival circuit next year, where the giant props and carnivalesque costumes will be able to flap freer than in the relatively serious confines of a Camden rock venue. Even more appropriate would be a Peaches float at Rio carnival or Sydney Mardi Gras, where scale and lack of subtlety are the prime requirements for entertaining large crowds. At over an hour, the set feels curiously too long as well, and a shorter 40-50 minute festival set might be a more appropriate length of…ahem…package.
As for the music, well, at points it does get a bit lost among the theatrics. You’ll remember the backing dancers dressed like extras from Legend being chased round the stage, Benny Hill style, by their mistress, before returning as naughty St Trinians schoolgirls. You’ll probably remember Peaches’ rhinestone vulvic life-saver costume that flips over to turn into a glittery hoop skirt. However, you might not remember which song that happened in, or indeed much of the setlist. This is a triumph of spectacle over song, but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that.
Breasts are finally bared for an encore of AAA XX, where she traces invisible lassoes over her head in one of her most magnetic poses of the evening, the Boadicea-like powers she exudes more affecting than the grotesqueries of the Vaginoplasty costumes. An encore of Light In Places remedies this, the Giorgio Moroder-pulse of the song perfectly matched with the laser buttplug trapeze act from the song’s video. This shoots beams of light over the audience with the vagina finally returning to a more dignified role a source of mystery and power. It might not be particularly clever anymore, but it’s all noticeably big and definitely very entertaining, if demanding of a more expansive environment. Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that she’s still up there doing this after all this time, and for that her clitoris should be gratefully and joyously rubbed.