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Girls Gone Mild 

If only the SuicideGirls' wildly popular soft-porn Web site translated into a decent stage show

Wednesday, Jul 21 2004
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This Friday and Saturday night, while scantily clad dancers at the world-famous Mitchell Brothers strip club lazily gyrate to the latest Usher single for bored Japanese businessmen, a dozen or so girls will take the stage at the Great American Music Hall next door and do roughly the same thing, with a few subtle differences. For one thing, the girls will not look like typical strippers, but rather like the kind of girls you'd see in the Lower Haight or at a rock show, girls with dyed hair, copious tattoos, and ample piercings. Instead of Usher, they'll dance to everything from Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger" to Marilyn Manson's "User Friendly." Instead of surly dudes and Japanese businessmen, they'll perform for approximately 600 hipsters, half of them women. Come to think of it, everything will be different -- the context, the look, the audience, the DIY punk sentiment.

Perhaps that's what makes the SuicideGirls Live Burlesque Tour so popular among rock fans.

Before the SuicideGirls were selling out concert halls across the country, they were (and remain) the main attraction at SuicideGirls.com. Founded in 2001 by Missy Suicide along with her co-conspirator, Sean Suhl, the site was originally nothing more than a side project to Missy's freelance Web design and photography careers (she helped build out versions of Interscope's and Ticketmaster's Web sites). The edgy yet tame portal is a tasteful, members-only pay site featuring diaries, message boards, articles, and, of course, X-rated photos of skinny, beautiful models of the "alternative" stripe -- small breasts, dyed hair, and a few well-placed tattoos and/or piercings.

Thanks to its bizarre appeal and savvy marketing, the venture has captured a much different demographic than a typical porn site out to make a quick buck. The average SuicideGirls.com customer is either in a band or rabidly supports underground music. Courtney Love is a member (she sometimes posts rambling, cryptic missives), Slug from Minneapolis rap crew Atmosphere has a song titled "Suicide Girls" on his Seven's Travels CD, and even local boy Stephan Jenkins drops a reference to the site on the latest Third Eye Blind record.

A quick glance through any individual SuicideGirl's "profile" proves that Missy and Suhl's criteria for selecting women for their site has as much to do with a model's taste in music as her waist size. "These are girls that are not only hot, but they've got great record collections," says Suhl from SG's headquarters in Los Angeles (they moved operations from Portland in 2002). Indeed, the girls seem to have impeccable taste in music, with preferences ranging from the Stooges to Squarepusher.

"All of our initial membership came from the music underground," continues Suhl. "One of the things that we did early on was sponsor punk rock shows and goth shows. It was a really weird way to build an audience for a Web site at that time, but it has definitely worked for us. ... When we heard a band that we really liked, we would send them stickers and T-shirts, and it all grew out from there."

"Dave Grohl had seen the site," Missy gushes like a teenager. "Apparently a fan outside of a Foo Fighters show in Philly gave him a sticker. He told his guitar tech to put it on his guitar because he thought it was cool, and then we just started getting hundreds of e-mails and new members from Europe after the Foo Fighters' European tour."

Missy eventually tracked down Grohl's e-mail address and sent a quick note of thanks. To her surprise, "I got an e-mail from Dave a week later saying, 'Oh my God, I can't believe I'm talking to Missy Suicide!'" A friendship ensued, and shortly thereafter Grohl offered to fly 66 SuicideGirls to L.A. for a video shoot. The recently wrapped video for the rocker's side-project band Probot, "Shake Your Blood," features Lemmy from Motörhead and has SuicideGirls all over it. "We were beyond thrilled with it, and the girls were happy as well," says Suhl.

With all the music industry chatter on SG message boards and the mainstream band attention, it seemed like the next logical step for Missy and Suhl was to take their act on the road. This week's gigs mark the Girls' second appearance at the Great American (their show there back in January sold out), where dancers with oh-so-creative names like "Siren," "Pearl," and "Stormy" will strut and strip for an eclectic audience of sex-positive hipsters. But while the dancers' brand of celebratory sexual energy infused with a bit of punk ethos sounds titillating, there is a lingering question: Is there anything more to this traveling skin-circus than what you'd find across the street? Does anyone outside of obsessed SuicideGirls.com "members" really need to shell out $15 to see these ladies shake their moneymakers?

Burlesque is back these days, but although the tour is billed as "burlesque," Pearl, Siren, et al. have about as much in common with vaudeville-esque burlesque acts such as San Francisco's Lollies or L.A.'s Velvet Hammer as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy has with Nine Inch Nails.

"I still consider it burlesque because we do perform traditional stuff like 'Big Spender,'" says Siren.

But purists like Velvet Hammer founder Michelle Carr cringe at such a distinction. "A woman taking her clothes off to a tune does not burlesque make," she huffs. "The SuicideGirls' burlesque shows really consist of nothing more than regular old strip-club strippin', except instead of girls donning fluorescent thongs, the SuicideGirls are adorned with body piercings and fluorescent Manic Panic hair under the guise of feminism and free expression."

Despite the enthusiasm of Siren and other dancers, the SuicideGirls' performance breaks no new ground. It resembles, at best, a Vegas modern-dance routine straight out of Showgirls. Take away superficial details like the colored hair and great music, and you're left with run-of-the-mill choreographed dance routines. (At one point during the show, the girls cover their naked bodies in chocolate syrup -- this is "edgy"?) Sure, a few of the numbers are kinky, but creatively, there is a lot be desired, as gawkers simply watch the young and beautiful prance about in their skivvies while tunes by the likes of Peaches blare through the PA. Ironically, at an actual Peaches concert audience members are encouraged to participate in the fun (the bawdy rapper is known for sometimes making out with her fans), something that does not happen at a SuicideGirls show. Indeed, an SG gig aspires to be dangerous and out of control, but invariably just skims the surface of actual sexuality in what amounts to a striptease in the truest sense of the word.

SuicideGirls.com is on the leading edge of a new online space where sex, music, and the punk community come together in a strikingly genuine fashion. Ultimately, however, rather than a lascivious thrill, logging on is more analogous to attending a friendly Belle & Sebastian show with an audience of stunning women who will listen and talk to you about music and life, if only for a moment. The online rock 'n' roll sexual revolution may be as subtle and simple as that -- and the SuicideGirls know it all too well. If only the magic of the Web site could translate to the stage.

About The Author

Charlie Amter

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