Review: Leslie & the LYs at the hi-dive, 2/19/2012
LESLIE & THE LYS @ HI-DIVE | 2.19.12
"Reba McEntire." With the mere mention of that name, queen crafting bee and cuddly rapping princess Leslie Hall incited riotous applause from her audience last night at the hi-dive. But the shout out to the renowned country singer that came at the end of "Gold Pants," Hall's first jam of the night (and the first jam that ever made her Internet-famous) was merely part of her aesthetic; Iowa's #1 Sweetheart was a walking homage to all things middle American.
Pennyhawk opened with a six-song set of hilarious masterpieces about impressing dudes with a knowledge of Pride & Prejudice and tales of the off-kilter types one might meet in an instructional knitting class. Dressed in thrift store house dresses and long hair hanging straight, Pennyhawk embodied the visual creepiness of The Shaggs, except for lead singer, guitarist and saxophone player Kate Kennedy, who channeled a crush-worthy era Rivers Cuomo.
All three bands on this tour -- Leslie & the LYs, Ramona & the Swimsuits and Pennyhawk -- shared members in various instrument and back-up dancer variations. So, a costume change and stage rearrangement was all that was needed before Ramona & The Swimsuits materialized, the band morphing from FLDS church attire to children's bathing suits and hair bows.
Between songs about living with your mom after college and the general weirdness of adulthood, band leader Ramona Muse did lots of finger-pointing and curtsies in the tradition of the elementary school dance routine. Furthering the tour's intelligently bizarre vibe, Ramona & the Swimsuits threw in a cover by the Exciters and a version of Arthur Russell's "Time Away," before making it's way off the stage to prepare for a roll in yet another act.
When it came time for Leslie to arrive, a short film was projected onto a makeshift screen, showing her journey in an air balloon to the venue. Just as Ms. Hall was "landing," a dummy version of the gold spandex princess was crowd surfed overhead and thrown to the stage. Magically, the real Leslie appeared.
"Gold Pants" was a messy but fun start, but "Blame The Booty" brought the real Leslie to the surface. Hall clenched and flexed her body wrapped in a signature skintight suit as back-up dancers exaggerated her every move and a live drummer and bass player were added to the mix. "Gold Pants Lullaby" slowed things down before "Tight Pants/Body Rolls" brought the energy back up, paid programs featuring the likes of Cher hawking beauty products playing as mini-interludes.
Hall's shows are unique in that there are no awkward silences; her mini-circus seems easily tripped up in a school talent show kind of way, but never loses momentum. She makes it a point to get her audience laugh both at and with her. Bringing the crowd into one of these jokes, Hall performed a regular show occurrence, a Gem Sweater Museum induction.
Several members of the the audience were brought on stage for costume judging, Leslie taking the time to inspect all bedazzled and jeweled sweaters in her presence. The winner was then chosen and given a certificate of gem sweater authenticity signed by the Keeper Of Thine Gems herself, before being crushed by one of Leslie's body-slamming hugs.
The show wound down with "How We Go Out," again name-checking McEntire as Leslie sang "Reba cracks the bass," before disappearing with her back-up spandexers behind the homemade video screen. A promo spot for the band's merch played and the LYs appeared once again, for a finale of "Shazam I'm Glamorous."
If you were born in the '80s, came of age in the '90s and your town square was the mall, seeing Leslie And The LYs is like seeing your childhood regurgitated by John Waters. Hall and her troops capture everything from the ubiquitous nature of neon spandex dance attire to the excitement we felt about a world with cable, and compacts and bedazzles it into one damn great show.
Personal Bias: I've been following Leslie Hall since her Myspace days.
Random Detail:A very discreetly and underdressed Leslie Hall was Pennyhawk's drummer. Sans make-up, Hall was virtually unrecognizable, except that she wore a headset microphone that gave away her signature speaking voice. Also, manning the stage for the first two sets was a pair of life-size, homemade mannequin doll-puppets. They acted as both hecklers and embarrassing aunt-types, asking band members questions about their skin and outfits during between every song.
By the way: While there was a large percentage of decked out and devoted Leslie Hall fans in the building who were dancing and having fun, there was also a lot of people standing completely still and just staring. This, to some extent, ruined the atmosphere of the show.
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music