I am sitting at the back of the upper levels of the Shepherds Bush Empire trying to will my shoes to dry.
Far below is a stage lit by soft purple light with an elaborate and unmanned scaffold centrepiece featuring an antique clock face and firmly closed iron gates. In the seats around me are gathered a number of people who look as if they have recently enacted a smash and grab on Camden’s Cyberdog, or at the very least raided the market.
This is the face of middle aged Goth flavoured alternative culture; this is the face of a scene that I was too old for before Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise filtered down in unstoppable waves through countless Disney Stores throughout the country.
From here on in there are no Sisters of Mercy and there are no Fields of the Nephilim, there is only the continuing transformation of the bridge between the years.
Yet beyond this there is a broader audience, a gathering of younger girls for who Emilie Autumn is obviously a source of great inspiration- several in attendance with the accompaniment of their parents – and a number of couples for whom she is obviously a reminder of past days when they first started dating, when they met amongst leafy University grounds perhaps.
The sound of distant seaside music wafts in like the breeze from the sea over the dimly lit stage, momentarily giving way to the flash of light and the grinding of chains only to fall make too readily into music hall songs of tea and Blighty and such nonsense
The crowd chant and the music falls silent once again, the spotlight illuminating first a girl seemingly dressed as Tiger Lily from Peter Pan, followed by another lady dressed in the feathers and titillation familiar from burlesque theatre.
The clock ticks, the chains rattle.
And then at last Emilie Autumn appears through the gates and the audience begins to call out and cheer and it is at once like both the theatre and Notting Hill Carnival.
Dressed in a costume of sequins and a headdress with a proud of mohican of blonde hair, Emilie Autumn calls out to her audience through her lyrics, carrying with her all the poise of the theatrical and all the regret of a bitter confessional.
“There’s no such thing as justice, the best thing we can hope for is revenge.”
It is easy to see why there are so many young girls in the audience looking up to her.
Yet the concert is not without fault. Throughout, there is the sense that Autumn’s vocals are too loud in the mix, overshadowing the brooding darkwave-tinged backing tracks that play behind the curtains.
The bell rings and the second song begins and Tiger Lily and her burlesque compatriot play fight before turning their attentions toAutumn, breaking down the singer with their cruel intentions and amplified gestures as all the while, her voice carries throughout the old music hall.
There is a further moment of filiation in the choreography and Autumn briefly embraces one of her dancers with passion and I can’t help but wonder how many teenage girls sitting quietly accompanied by their parents are feeling uncomfortable right now.
The music box chimes and the nursery rhyme chants fade and by the fourth song, Autumn is shackled and bound in a parody of institutionalisation.
“Get back in line,” she cries and I am reminded of Diamanda Galás, sans the true roar of the other’s vilified rage.
This in itself is sadly the problem with events.
There is a lot of love for Emilie Autumn, a lot of dedication and passion amongst her gathered fans, and the issues she tackles – mental illness, sexuality, feminism – are all significant and worthy of addressing especially within the forum of popular culture. Yet for all the dedication, all the charm of the theatre and the vaudeville and Victoriana, the true hate and loathing never quite rises to the surface with as much force as in Galás’ work or even the early work of Tori Amos.
“Take the pills, take the pills,” comes the chant and Autumn’s character is consigned on stage amidst wreaths and regrets only to reborn in fraternity, yet there is still the feeling that this work – this album and tour – isn’t the definite record that will bring Emilie Autumn truly to the attention of the broader audience she deserves.
An inventive and heartfelt show that will prove the stepping stone in future efforts, the message of Emilie Autumn’s music is certainly one worth giving voice to.