SSION at Empty Bottle | Concert preview

Performance art and queer culture intersect in Cody Critcheloe’s club hybrids.

Photograph: Amos MacSsion

James Murphy once observed how New York loves an art star, and, boy, has the city found one in Kansas City expat Cody Critcheloe. Over the course of the last decade, Critcheloe—the multi-talented mastermind behind SSION (pronounced “shun”)—has established himself through a series of decadent live shows, self-released CD-Rs and fanciful music videos for Peaches, Liars and Santigold, not to mention the gloriously ragged cover art for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ 2003 benchmark, Fever to Tell.

With the release of Bent, the Kansas City Art Institute grad proves himself not only a visual stylist, but a competent songwriter in his own right, mining the last three decades of club music. Gauzy synths and lilting arpeggios frame Critcheloe’s vocals over rhythms engineered especially for the dance floor. Despite the music’s hedonistic sheen, his lyrics often home in on a bittersweet yearning for love and acceptance—emotions Critcheloe likely experienced as a gay teenager growing up in rural Kentucky.

It’s through Critcheloe’s multimedia approach that he displays an academic knowledge of performance art and queer culture. SSION’s live shows feature garish costumes, scads of stage props and radiant lighting, while his music videos blend John Waters’s trashy sense of humor with the visual virtuosity of David LaChapelle. In both mediums, Critcheloe exhibits his vision of a “queer utopia” where gay culture, feminism and the underbelly of the American Dream intersect. While that might sound like art with a capital A, the group’s glitter-flecked output deserves closer inspection. Glowsticks are recommended.

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