Straight off the Lollapalooza tour and straight outta hell is the “last touring sideshow in North America,” aka the Jim Rose Sideshow.
So says Rose as part of his endless carnival barker raps between his freaky cohorts’ acts. The Sideshow has been touring on its own since its incredibly powerful reception this summer as part of Lollapalooza ’92’s midway attractions.
Extensive media coverage has fueled the fervor for this act, but it was at Lollapalooza that most of the audience on this night became familiar with the schtick, which bills itself as a non-stop gross-out. Because of the Lollapalooza connection, most of the crowd looked right out of a Mudhoney or Soundgarden gig, ready to mosh.
Rose’s troupe is pure geek-show retro, even if none of his freaks bite the heads off chickens. Consider: Mister Lifto, a transvestite whose pierced penis provided one of the most squirm-inducing moments of the performance. Or Matt the Tube, who inserted a tube into his nose and (presumably) hit his stomach, filled his belly with beer, chocolate and Maalox, and then pumped this revolting concoction back into glasses for a few brave volunteers to quaff.
Then there was Torture King, pierced from head to toe, who stuck a skewer through his cheeks; and Rose himself, who allows his face to be ground into broken glass and swallows razor blades.
Big fun, eh? Actually, it was. Despite warnings from Rose about faintings and vomiting, no one in the audience seemed to lose their lunches. Unlike Lollapalooza, this crowd was ready for the group’s vile antics, and lapped them up in the same way Slug lapped up a mouthful of crickets, worms and maggots.
In its own way, the Sideshow is great theater, the visual equivalent of the booming sadism/masochism and bondage scenes. With real sex a potential killer, the simulated play of S&M is one of the last safe retreats, and a little vicarious grossness ain’t too bad. Besides, it’s nothing any nurse at any emergency room hasn’t seen already.