Making the Cut

Mostly queer, always brash, Sisters evoke 70s rock stars who toyed with gender

On a recent summer night in Queens at P.S. 1, a capacity crowd turned out to hear the newest New York sensation, the Scissor Sisters. Despite the poor stage setup in the museum’s packed courtyard, the audience showed they were ready to get down to the group that is taking the charts by storm.

This frolicking band with the slightly racy name—for the uninitiated, it refers to a lesbian sex act—came together five years ago when singer Jake Shears met a talented multi-instrumentalist, dubbed Babydaddy, and the two meshed their mutual passions for music and performance, and Scissor Sisters was born. The group debuted in late 2001, and has had folks talking since.

In addition to Babydaddy on bass and Shears on vocals, Scissor Sisters is comprised of drummer Paddy Boom, guitarist Del Marquis, and female vocalist Ana Matronic, who made a name for herself as the first woman to take the stage at San Francisco’s infamous Trannyshack. A good fit, she would agree, having admitted that, “At 20, I realized I’m a drag queen stuck in a woman’s body!” At least one audience member at P.S. 1, however, felt that Matronic’s ode to drag queen fashion sense came across as a bit over the top, as did her propensity for redundantly hurling “motherfucker” at the crowd every 30 seconds.

The Sisters’ sound is a melange of rolling guitar riffs and pounding synthesizers many have compared to David Bowie and Roxy Music, with added elements of disco, trance and rock opera. It is comfortingly familiar, “what Elton John sounded like when he was good,” wrote one reader on Metacritic.com.

Perhaps the best song on their new self-titled debut is “Take Your Mama,” a radio-ready tune about coming out of the closet to your mom by taking her to a gay bar. The lyrics suggest a party, with a dirty little secret: “We’re gonna take your momma out all night/ Yeah we’ll show her what it’s all about/ We’ll get her jacked up on some cheap champagne/ Let the good times all roll out.” The tune, however, is positively infectious, indeed reminiscent of a young Sir Elton, mixed with a slow-rolling Little Feat stoner anthem like “Dixie Chicken.”

But it is their disco/trance cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” that has the nation talking, as is Europe, where the band is currently touring. Rooted in rock history, “Comfortably Numb” is a difficult tune to tackle, but the Scissor Sisters truly make it their own, tricking it out with Bee Gees-style vocals and a “Frankie Says Relax” finish.

“I’ve always loved singing in falsetto!” Shears said in a recent interview.

I first encountered the cover of the Pink Floyd tune on the “Hotel Pelirocco” CD compilation, and fell for it hook, line and sinker.

Still, I can’t help laughing at the street-wise, digital meltdown sound and too-cool for-school lyrics in a song like “Filthy/Gorgeous” that riffs close to the bone with: “When you’re running from a trick/ And you trip on a hit of acid/ You gotta work for the man/ But your biggest moneymaker’s flaccid.”

And fans of Nick Kershaw will love “It Can’t Come Quickly Enough,” an anthem that attests to the band’s skill in blending old sounds with new concepts, almost like the Pet Shop Boys reborn minus the electronica.

The album also features softer cuts, like the heartfelt “Mary,” backed by electric piano and drums and reminiscent of the “lite” rock played at the office. And pop hasn’t heard a better tune than the album’s first track, “Laura,” a pleading love song that smacks of Lenny Kravitz meets Ween, with the hilarious, heartbreaking lyrics, “This’ll be the last time/ I ever do your hair.”

Scissor Sisters’ live shows have a gender-bending, circus-like atmosphere, and the group members revel in dressing up in mismatched combos of berets and boas, military pants and velour jackets, fishnets and silk shirts. Some describe their style as “cabaret rock,” but don’t think that means the group can’t get serious. Their seemingly off-the-cuff boogie track, “Tits on the Radio” takes to task New York City’s increasingly tame nightlife. “Return to Oz” bemoans a brain dead gay club-culture ravaged by crystal meth, with the lyrics, “The grass is dead, the gold is brown/ And the sky has claws/ There’s a wind-up man, walking round and round/ What once was Emerald City’s now a crystal town.”

The Scissor Sisters may have meant their album to come across as some kitschy inside joke, but have had the fortune to be at the right place at the right time. Our jaded world is clamoring for some retro-80s rock sounds that are akin to auditory comfort food—and the Sisters are real good eatin’. Catch them in September when they return to the States.

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