The New York cabaret powerhouse returns to tackle her love-hate relationship with America
Lady Rizo’s latest show – dubbed her global “apology tour” – has touched down for a short season at Sydney Festival. The apology is required for one simple reason: Lady Rizo is an American.
According to the singer, America is a very bad boyfriend, and their relationship is rather dysfunctional. He’s the kind of boyfriend you have to apologise for. Over the course of the show, she tackles her boyfriend’s myriad problems – his violence, his discrimination, his selfishness, his need to control women and his obsession with guns – through music and storytelling.
Red, White and Indigo starts with a scorching performance of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ inspired by Marvin Gaye’s legendary 1983 soul-infused rendition, mashed up with Gaye’s own ‘Inner City Blues’. Like Gaye’s arrangement of the national anthem, the show is an inventive and unlikely tribute to the US, seeking to bring a new perspective to its subject.
That perspective is of a liberal New Yorker, and although it’s certainly not one that’s underrepresented in the cultural world, she knows how to spin a story with panache and speak to her audience in a disarmingly open way. Her journey through Russia – undertaken when she was a teenager – is eye-opening and riotous, as she boozes her way through a Russian drinking song. Her take on Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang Bang’ – repurposed to comment on gun crime – is particularly fiery.
Lady Rizo has a fairly significant cult following, but it’s difficult to accurately describe the experience of one of her shows for newcomers. Her presence is endlessly fascinating: she’s acerbic and brittle, but also inviting and warm. One moment she’s having a quiet and intimate conversation with a single audience member behind a screen – the next she’s roaring her way through one of her own rock-cabaret compositions and flipping striptease on its head.
But what really makes an impact is her voice: she has a raw rasp and seemingly infinite power, but also extraordinary sensitivity and musicality, perfectly in step with her four-piece band. She’s equal parts Leonard Cohen and Peggy Lee, traversing the worlds of pop, folk, rock and jazz with ease.
Although she’s here to apologise for her boyfriend, it’s clear Rizo still loves the US – or at least the promise of what the nation might be if it’s able to deliver the genuine freedom it so prides itself on. Her light and liberty-filled finale speaks to that promise, and if it’s a little on the kitsch side, that’s a pretty appropriate tribute for the land of the brave.