Kristeen Young, live at the Hotel Cafe, 5/16
The St. Louis singer-provocateur Kristeen Young put on quite the fascinating one-woman show at the Hotel Café, defying the boundaries of technology, the laws of gravity and the mood swings of a fussy soundman. She was decked out in a style that was truly all her own, with a witchy black hat tilted rakishly at an odd angle on her head, partially obscuring her eyes, and dressed up in a decidedly non-goth outfit that included a tight yellow skirt, patterned white stockings, black pumps and a puffy white blouse with ridiculously large, sail-like, billowing sheer-chiffon sleeves.
Young alternated between dancing to programmed backing tracks and playing her keyboards, aggressively hammering down dark and foreboding chords with her left hand while tapping out a weirdly demented nursery-rhyme-like counterpoint with her right, as she grinned mischievously at the unholy racket she was conjuring. Sometimes her keyboards tinkled like a music box, and at other times they groaned and shuddered with the onrushing momentum of a crashing airplane.
She debuted dense, febrile tunes from her new EP, V the Volcanic (produced by David Bowie main man Tony Visconti), which is one of the more unusual concept albums in recent memory, with the lyrics sung from the point of view of supporting characters from an eclectic range of classic films, including the android Pris (Blade Runner), Sarah Jane Johnson (Imitation of Life), the misunderstood Violet Bick (It's a Wonderful Life) and even the Angry Apple Tree from The Wizard of Oz.
Lest you think the concept was merely cute, Young propelled the songs with her trademark forcefully decisive piano accents and her operatic vocals, infusing them with unexpected passion that evoked deeper, darker and more unsettling emotions than one would normally associate with those films. Her impressively soaring banshee vocals often trailed off into eerily childlike laughter and sobs.
"I am Egypt and you are Rome," she sang on "Fantastic Failure," as her synth whirred with madcap spinning sounds. "We'll be gods, not kings/'cause our dreams will be supernatural offspring." On the other hand, "Why Can't It Be Me?" was comparatively straightforward, a ballad whose yearning melodicism was almost heartbreaking.
When Young wasn't tethered to her keyboard, she pranced about the club's small stage, continuing to sing even after she stumbled over the house drum kit and fell to the ground. When she tried to get her revenge by daintily kicking the bass drum over, the soundman cut the power, and the show came to a sudden halt.
"I'm just trying to be dramatic," Young sheepishly explained. The soundman -- who was perhaps more accustomed to sensitive singer-songwriters with acoustic guitars -- climbed onstage, fiddled with the cords and microphones and moved the drum set out of the way before finally allowing the set to proceed. Undeterred, Young continued belting out her complexly arranged new songs, as well as older favorites like the soul-stirrer "Everybody Wants Me to Cry." She didn't have to worry about trying to be dramatic -- there were plenty of exhilarating moments in each of her songs.