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The House of Tudor 

Wednesday, Mar 3 1999
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Someone at Capitol Records has a feather boa in his or her closet and it must be fabulous, because the promotion for Divas Exotica promises to be more fun than the album -- which is itself more fun than flirting with married men over martinis and diamonds while watching a roomful of drag queens fight for one pair of size 12 silver sling-back heels, and that's pretty fun.

This month, one highly "cultivated" drag queen will be chosen from 11 competing cities as the print model for Divas. Contestants must select a song and identity from Capitol's compilation of 19 lyrically indelicate and aurally titillating songs -- all of which would have given exotica godfather Les Baxter a tangible lift. While most queens will steer clear of such first-class chanteuses like Josephine Baker, Nina Simone, Edith Piaf, and Billie Holiday, there are plenty of other ribald numbers -- and figures -- to choose from: April Steven's outrageous "Teach Me Tiger," Marlene Dietrich's throaty "Near You," Carmen Miranda's pouty "I Want My Mama," and Sophia Loren's unlikely "Zoo Be Zoo Be Zoo."

But I think of all the female illusionist prototypes on this album, Mamie Van Doren steals the zircon tiara with "Go, Go, Calypso." When America's interest in blond bombshells began to wane, Van Doren turned her enthusiasms to the calypso "craze" that was going to supplant rock 'n' roll. Van Doren's bizarre "Trinidadian" pronunciation is only outflounced by her current Web site, where the "First Authentic Sex Kitten in Cyberspace" frequently posts recipes and recollections of her early sexual encounters with Elvis Presley, Rock Hudson, Steve McQueen, Burt Reynolds, and Henry Kissinger (premature ejaculation seems to be a theme with all of the above except Presley). Miss Wendy Watch hosts San Francisco's "Divas Exotica" and I hope she, at least, will have balls enough to growl along with Yma Sumac's "La Molina" at Harvey's Nightclub (500 Castro at 18th Street) on Wednesday, March 3, at 10 p.m. Tickets are $3; call 431-4278.

As lascivious as the exotica movement was, it would have been hardly a flicker on the stages of Berliner Kabarett, where decades of penned-up expression found release during the permissive Weimar era. Before the National Socialist Party came into power, the Kabarett produced some of the world's most brilliant stage composers -- including Friedrich Hollaender, who wrote the songs performed by Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel. The Untamed Stage re-creates their work in the most popular and influential cabaret of the era with Helen Shumaker (of Mona Rodgers in Person) performing "Wenn die Beste Freunden" (Germany's early tribute to woman-to-woman romance) and Arturo Galster, otherwise known as Patsy Cline and Chesty Baker, performing as a Dietrich character named Lola-Lola. Also part of The Untamed Stage is new German vaudevillian Beni Ocker, Leigh Crow (the Artist Formerly Known as Elvis Herselvis), ACT veteran Bob Ernst, Dirty Little Showtunes' David Bicha, and many more at 7th Note Showclub on Friday and Saturday, March 5 and 6 (continuing Wednesdays and Thursdays through March 25), at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15; call 820-3217.

It's been a few years since New York's John S. Hall graced us with his cockeyed slant on modern civilization. In 1991, his band King Missile debuted at No. 1 on the CMJ charts with their odd spoken-word hit "Detachable Penis," but many fleeting fans missed the more cognitive work of the solo artist, which he performed all too rarely. The new album by King Missile III -- which includes Lounge Lizard cellist Jane Scarpantoni, Herbie Hancock bassist/violinist Sasha Forte, percussionist Bradford Reed, and cellist/guitarist Charles Curtis -- finds Hall ruminating in his sarcastic deadpan on "Failure," "Despair," and "Happiness." But don't let the serious musicians and song titles fool you. Hall derives great pleasure from exploring the things "Up My Ass," and greater pleasure in the sad fate of "The Little Sandwich That Got a Guilt Complex Because He Was the Sole Survivor of a Horrible Bus Accident," and still greater pleasure in dissecting what is "Gay/Not Gay." If expeditious wit and multilayered instrumentation doesn't impede your good time, King Missile III performs at the Bottom of the Hill on Saturday, March 6, with Brad Reed and Blue Period opening at 10 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 626-4455.

After the introduction of "White Trash Karaoke" last April -- during which patrons and staff dressed as pregnant adolescents and toothless long-haul drivers -- Annie's became the Tuesday night destination for all sorts of music-loving riffraff. Folks like KUSF's Terror Bull Ted and Jet, the Bay Guardian's "Dilettante" Summer Burkes (all of whom have displayed surprisingly tuneful vocal cords after a few cocktails), and me (I possess no such hidden aptitude) are as snug as drunken bugs in the bar's nightly crowd of promoters, club bouncers, bar managers, bailiffs, bodyguards, booze hounds, and bounty hunters (the bar's on "Bail Bonds Alley" across from 850 Bryant). Annie's first annual Karaoke Contest should prove no different. Jet and Glama-Rama's Mr. Anthony will judge and, as is Annie's way, there will be a little something for all 20 randomly drawn, theatrically attired contestants -- $200 for the first-place winner, $100 for second, $50 for third, and Warfield or Slim's tickets for all. Spike Lawson, lead singer of the punked-over '70s cover band Me First & the Gimme Gimmes, hosts as always, and even if he doesn't sing "I Am a Rock," someone else will. The vocal tournament will be held at Annie's (15 Boardman Place) on Tuesday, March 9, at 9 p.m. Admission is free; call 703-0865.

-- Silke Tudor

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Silke Tudor

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