Sophisticated Boom Boom

S.F.'s Famous Burlesque Orchestra provides a safe haven for punks, gorillas, and other odd characters

After hooking up with the Cantankerous Lollies the following year, the combo morphed into Fisherman's Famous Burlesque, a group that played with one foot on the Sunset Strip and the other in the gutter. Last August, Lease moved to New York City, and Bergmann changed the band's moniker and took over the reins. Currently, the ensemble includes Polkacide leader and saxophonist Ward Abronski (who blew on Flipper's punk classic "Sex Bomb"), trumpeter Andy DeGiovanni, one-time acid-jazz star Paul Scriver, ex-punk guitarist Frank Novicki, and former Jumbo Shrimp drummer Dana Burt, along with Kitten on the Keys.

Why are so many punks and rockers drawn to this sound? "It's still lowbrow sort of stuff," Bergmann explains with a laugh. "It's artistic but it's not high art."

Burlesque may not be high art, but it has provided the band with some unusual live gigs. Earlier this year, the troupe headed to L.A., where it played the famed Brown Derby as Playboyfounder Hugh Hefner and five of his blond girlfriends watched. Then the collective traveled to Exotic World, the museum owned by the 70-year-old self-proclaimed "Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque," Dixie Evans. Out in the Mojave Desert, the group delivered backup music for routines by old-time queens Tempest Storm and Dee Milo and participated in accordion jams, fire-breathing contests, and Spin the Bottle games with former light technicians for ELO.


Friday and Saturday, Sept. 27-28, at 8:30 p.m.

Tickets are $25-30


The Orchestra also plays the Tease-O-Rama closing party on Sunday, Sept. 29, at 9:30 p.m. at Broadway Studios, 435 Broadway (at Kearny), S.F. Tickets are $20-25; call 401-1152

Bimbo's 365 Club, 1025 Columbus (at Chestnut), S.F.

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Burlesque Orchestra shows can take many forms. While the band supplies everything from sleazy noir-jazz to bopping pop-crunch to sultry spy-lounge, MC Mad V. Dog offers up comedic chestnuts that are funny because they're completely unfunny. The Cantankerous Lollies always kick up a storm, as do the Go-Going Gone Girls. Molotov and Felicity may swallow swords or breath fire, Simone de la Getto might sing "Zing Went the Strings of My Petticoat," and the Boing Boing Boy occasionally doffs his clothes while hopping on a pogo stick. If things get a little stale, there's always Gorilla X, who has practiced his banana-and-Red Bull-fueled hijinks onstage with No Doubt and on screen on TV's Maury.

"It's funny, it's mirthful, with a real powerful sense of humor, a real shtick, naughty and playful," pianist Ramsey says.

"The appeal for me in all burlesque is the creative titillation," says Novicki, who replaced guitarist Ray six months ago. "It's not pornographic, but it is pretty nasty, depending on how dirty your mind is. And it's not just a bunch of good-looking girls running around the stage taking their clothes off."

As for why the burlesque revival has been such a success, Novicki postulates, "This isn't a bunch of hacks trying to get a record deal or trying to be the next big thing -- it's people trying to put on a really good show."


Oddly enough, most folks go to Tease-O-Rama for the tease, not the tunes. Here are some of the highlights of the convention -- from solo sirens to tawdry troupes, horny honkers to hot how-tos.

Dance WorkshopS.F.'s Brazilian burlesque group Hot Pink Feathers offers tips on how to shake and shimmy with the best of them.

The Gun St. GirlsWhile this Seattle/Portland troupe dresses old-fashioned, it dances only to modern sounds -- punk, punk, and more punk. Using whips and guns onstage, Miss A. Sphyxia, Hangman Lola, and the other vixens drag glitter through the gutter.

Harvest Moon (featuring Fisherman)Having started the Cantankerous Lollies in San Francisco in 1995, Harvest Moon danced off to New York with multi-instrumentalist Brian Lease (ex-Fisherman's Famous Burlesque) last year. The couple's act, which they still perform in the Big Apple, includes hula hoops, contortions, and a mean-sounding xylophone.

The History of BurlesqueNew Orleans-based filmmaker Rick Delaup unveils the naked truth about old-time burlesque. Complete with guest commentary from icon Kitty West and film clips from the '50s.

Dee Milo Now in her 70s, this legendary hoofer began her career in 1949 as "the Venus of Dance." Hopefully, she'll perform her famous tease routines like "Sentimental Journey," in which she depicts a lovers' reunion after wartime, and "I Married an Angel," which provides a glimpse at what happens after the ceremony.

Pasty-making Workshop When not singing and dancing at New York's Le Scandal cabaret, Miss Bonnie Dunn shows ladies (and men, if they like) how to fashion their very own nipple protectors. Start the holiday gift-buying season off right.

The Sophisticats & the SophistikittensNew Orleans' answer to the Devil-Ettes, the Sophistikittens shake, rattle, and roll to the vintage sounds of the Sophisticats. Anything from surfy rumble to rumba lounge to bluesy swagger is fair game, as long as the horns are honking and the dames are dancing dirty.

Dita Von Teese This pinup girl is often called "The Modern-Day Bettie Page." On her Web site,, she proudly declares that she wears only vintage clothing and drives around in a 1939 Chrysler New Yorker. She's scheduled to be on the cover of Playboy in December, and Bizarre magazine once declared her the third "most sexiest woman."

The World Famous BobThis New Yorker's claim to fame is her ability to mix martinis in her cleavage. Who says burlesque ain't high art?

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