It all began like a cult ritual: painting symbols on a woman wearing little more than pasties and a headdress, churning out ominous canned music, and sharing a lingering kiss between the artist and subject. This is how you start an album release show, according to Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys.
An all-local bill is a bit of a rarity for Cambridge rock club the Sinclair, usually the destination of touring indie darlings and Americana troubadours. It’s happened once before in recent memory, teaming Ruby Rose Fox up with Sidewalk Driver and Jenny Dee and The Deelinquents, a bombshell of Boston talent joined together after the controversy of many smaller venues closing for good in the Greater Boston area.
Sickert and his Army of Broken Toys, the aforementioned Ruby Rose Fox, and Mount Peru dared to repeat the feat, this time with a dual album-release for Sickert (Come Black Magic, listen here) and Mount Peru (Good Morning Midnight, listen here), this past Friday (September 9). The pairing of the three swerved the easy move of booking three homogenous rock acts in favor of offering a local buffet of genres: the easy rock and roll of Mount Peru, the soulful lounge-pop of Fox, and the menacing comedic-rock of Sickert and Co.
Opening the show, Mount Peru played on the complacent side. Their down-by-the-river rock intends to soothe, but they could have used a dose of Ruby Rose Fox’s electric persona to jazz up their mild style.
Even in the wake of her new release Domestic, Fox played two new songs that were not on the summer release. New piano-bar tune “Boy Wonder” debuted at her usual show-stopping caliber, and “Sky Diver” blasted her vocals through a megaphone for that jukebox sound you can usually only hear in a recording studio.
Beginning with only two backup vocalists and her own keyboard and bellows, Fox commanded attention with her dramatic vocal inflections, which always tells her story better than her whip-smart lyrics can (and when her voice doesn’t tell the story, the doleful eyes behind her lush lashes or her Elvis-style hip movements do). When the rest of her band joined her onstage, her soul-fest was in full swing. Her signature throaty tenor bloated the music hall with power, from the bitter and biting “Entertainer,” to her funk single “Dance of Frankenstein,” which somehow always manages to conjure images of Tim Curry’s performance in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
It was a good primer before Sickert and crew took the stage, where the freaks and steamcrunk fans awaited Sickert’s Elton-John-on-a-trip-gone-wrong ego and attire. Their occult-esque opening custom paired with playing the title track from new album Come Black Magic set the delightfully freakish tone for their cirque-du-soleil set of weirdo rock. Ranging from sinister dirges (“Where’s Your Ghost”) to dyed-in-the-wool hard rock (“Whole Way Down”), the army’s devilish catalogue of avant-garde and baroque songs fed a ravenous crowd of freaks.
At the center of the madness is Sickert himself, providing the tell-tale vocals and guitar, all while alternating between three extravagant headdresses and collars of feathers and cobwebs. “I’m the rabbit king, and I can do anything,” he said matter-of-factly, a grotesque rabbit helmet atop his massive dreadlocks.
His comrades joined in the deliberately gaudy fun. A nun with a septum ring sensually twirled a ruler to dirty glockenspiel lullaby “Odd Stories.” Ukulele and flute player Jojo Lazar improvised onstage and stripped down to her black skivvies (“You like pornography, right? You’re in a porno starring you, and I’m watching it”). Viola player Rachel Jayson writhed on the ground, teetering on the stage’s edge provocatively while manning her instrument and bow.
Taken in together, along with repeat clips from The Shining projected onto the backdrop, the eerie madness registers as par for the monster-mash course for Sickert and his army. And it showed Boston’s underground can rise when necessary.