“Peaches Does Herself” finds the Canadian expat electroclash pioneer doing her outrageously (and often hilariously) sexual thing in a rock-opera form consisting of back-catalog songs and an elaborate, entertaining stage presentation. This high-grade concert film will enthrall fans and amuse more open-minded newbies, though it suffers from the most dynamic material being largely clustered in the pic’s front section. Continuing to play one-off dates and festivals a year after its Toronto fest premiere, often with its director/writer/producer/composer/star in attendance, it opens a theatrical run Oct. 18 at New York’s Quad Cinema.
It begins with a stuffy academic (Armin Dallapiccola) giving a lectern introduction in untranslated German, only to be interrupted by a “riot grrrl band” (two-woman Berlin act Jolly Goods) singing Peach’s “Rock Show,” with the star herself revealed sitting on a very large bed whose sides look like a giant Rubik’s cube. The vaguely autobiographical script has her start a music career “makin’ beats in my bedroom” in 1999. A giant neon vagina is lowered to the stage, from which emerges elderly Sandy Kane, aka the Naked Cowgirl, an extremely profane elderly woman in most age-inapt clothing and blue wig. She offers some lyrical tips, from which Peaches is inspired to such heights as (to quote some of the less obscene verbiage) “Sodom and Gomorrah/Today and tomorra/And my aura/Shines like menorah.”
She’s soon joined by a polymorphously perverse troupe of eight dancers whose appealingly loose, rowdy choreography (by Jeremy Wade) is a highlight throughout. Despite being rejected by a wildly butch girlfriend (Mignon) to the tune of “Lovertits,” Peaches soon emerges as a full-bore star in futuristic unisex glam regalia, singing rockers “Show Stopper” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll” with propulsive three-piece Sweet Machine.
This energy peak at the half-hour mark is unfortunately followed by an interlude with Ms. Kane, whose bottom-rung burlesque comedy and “dirty” song are so awful (especially in contrast to Peach’s ability to both inhabit and mock her transgressive image) that you can only cringe in embarrassment. The show never fully recovers, despite some good numbers. Peaches’ infatuation with Amazonian “she-male” Danni Daniels, only to lose him/her to the Cowgirl, slows things down and prompts more minimalist stagecraft. Despite Peaches’ surprisingly versatile voice, no one really wants to hear her sing an earnest ballad like “Lose You.” There is, however, an inspired fade as she finally performs original breakout hit “(Blank) the Pain Away,” repeating its unrepeatable lyric ad nauseum as she pedals a Harley-styled bicycle into the streets of Berlin outside.
Despite all the aggressive gender-blurring content and explicit lyrics, Peaches’ persona almost never takes itself seriously, and much of what’s here is as funny as it is envelope-pushing. The film and the stage show (both directed by her) are playfully inventive on all design/tech levels, and the additional musicians (singer Mignon, combos Sweet Machine and Jolly Goods) are terrific.
Still, the dip in energy and showmanship later on is a bit fatiguing, despite the short running time. Maybe the problem is that the first half-hour is so outre and delightful (at least for those who can tolerate a soft-“X”-rated performance art/technobeat/rock extravaganza) that the remainder is hard-pressed to match it.