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Monday, August 11, 2008

Hercules & Love Affair - NYC 8-8-08

Hercules & Love Affair has come to us from another New York – three decades ago, New York was a time of extremities and excess. With a massive debt crisis, nightmarish crime rate, and a crumbling factory industry, the city was crippled with some very low lows. But Vietnam was over, it was the dawn of gay pride, and women were winning the fight for their rights. People wanted to dance, dance, dance. Uptown, Studio 54 was flooded with starlets and wannabes. Downtown, The Loft and The Gallery housed epic parties with epic dancing to epic music. The effect of the New York disco scene and sound gave rise to the house, techno, and rave scenes which followed in the 1980’s and 90’s, and left an impression on the city for years to come.

Hercules and Love Affair's show Friday night at The Fillmore gave the audience a taste of what the high highs of a past New York used to be like. The show was a pastiche of elements from the past three decades of club culture in New York – and not dependent on nostalgia alone, Hercules was able to take these elements, and classily appropriate them to contemporary culture.

Opening with a cover of Daniel Wang's 1993 club classic "Like Some Dream (I Can't Stop Dreaming)," paying homage to one of New York’s left-field disco finest, the 8-piece band burst onto the stage with a combustion of pink helium balloons spilling out onto the audience. Nomi Ruiz took on vocals as the band merged the show’s opener into “True/False,” one of the closing tracks on Hercules’ recently released debut album. Switching back and forth with the petite, androgynous Kim Ann Foxman, the two made an engaging pair. At first, both Kim Ann and Nomi seemed a bit overcome by shyness and timidity; the audience didn’t seem quite sure how to react to the group at first, and kept quiet. But by the end of “Shadows,” there was a strong connection between Kim Ann, Nomi, and the audience which lasted for the rest of the show. Bordering on a style somewhere between feminine sophistication and tranny-tackyness in the best possible way, Nomi’s voice was a more-than suitable filler for the missing Antony Hegarty on “Blind,” The bands first single which has caught the ears of both critics and audiences alike, the live performance of “Blind” lived up to the excitement surrounding the recorded version, and was definitely the hit of the night. The boyish Kim Ann dedicated the sexy, slow-moving “Athene” to “all the girls,” and got down with a drum pad during the spacey, hypnotic, bass-pumping “Classique #2” which could have been taken directly from an old-school rave. The encore included “You Belong,” another one of Hercules’ club hits, and ended with “Hercules Theme.” By the end of the show, Nomi and Kim Ann had the entire audience singing along about the perils and triumphs of the transcendent Greek God.

As great as the music was, Friday night's show was just as much of a celebration of the queer culture surrounding it. On opposite ends of the stage were three vogue dancers, adding a flamboyant theatrical touch with moves taken straight from the New York City drag balls of the 1970's and 80's, where voguing originated. Many of the band members, including two live trumpet players, wore shirts adorned with the word "Banjee" underneath the band’s logo – a slang term used to describe a gay man of color who dresses in stereotypical urban fashion. Andy Butler, the main man behind Hercules and Love Affair, was perched at a set of keyboards and synthesizers, and with his platinum blonde hair, looked like he stepped out of a new-wave music video. Hidden behind the theatrics of Kim Ann, Nomi, and the dancers for most of the show, when he did address the audience towards the end of the night, he told them he was proud of his fellow New Yorkers for keeping the party going. “You guys are starting to make me think that New York is fun again!”

Watching members of a multiracial, pan-sexual band flaunting their strengths and sexuality while simultaneously expressing their earnestness and vulnerabilities provided an emotional wave of communication between the band members and audience. In recent years, there haven't been too many dance acts that have taken the party and have turned it into a heartfelt, sincere experience. It's refreshing to have a band like Hercules and Love Affair who can make exciting and edgy dance music and turn it into a joyful, inspiring, and meaningful live show.

Review & Photos by Alison McCarthy

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