Wherein A Tough-As-Nails Audience Turns Suddenly Docile

NEW YORK, NY - Reviewing live shows should be lumped into the“have-to-kiss-a-lot-of-frogs” category - after you've kissed a few, you develop a subconscious defense mechanism before a show, you find yourself anxiously watching for any of the signs which usually preface a performance that would make it so utterly impressive that it negates all of the ill feelings you encountered about your line of work during the sea of horrid shows you had to review before it. Every rock critic I know has a mental checklist compiled of the following sure-fire tip-offs: 1) Recent release of a record. 2) Attendance by an industry VIP. 3) Attendance by a rock luminaries who come to check out the competition. 4) A packed-house, preferably devoid of “I’m too hip to appear anything but bored” assholes. I had the first check on my list before I left home, having just listened to Pharoah’s independent debut album, First Strike. I was busy ticking off items two and three before Pharoah played there first note - after arming myself with a drink (another defense mechanism) and positioning myself unobtrusively against a wall, where I did a little people watching and spotted execs from two major labels. Following closely on the heels of that discovery was the realization that the figure slouched in a chair near the rear of the club was none other than Joey Ramone. (Gene Simmons made a fashionable late entrance around one o clock.) The typical Wednesday night Cat Club audience is a double-edged sword. An audience so reputedly nasty isn’t without one big advantage. I call it the “New York, New York (if I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere) theory” and its lovely colors showed themselves to me on this night in the form of a tough, spike and leather clad, poser-ridden audience that had begun making its way to the front of the stage in anticipation of the start of Pharoah’s show. Big Deal, you say? Well, you’ve obviously never been to the Cat Club and seen a talented band flounder around helplessly on stage while the audience hangs back in the shadows en masse with their thumbs up their asses. Any band that can get this crowd up front before the start of the show has won half the battle. Hastily, I ticked off mental item number four and smugly primed myself for a foolproof performance, Pharoah didn’t disappoint me. This band capitalizes on the element of surprise. Given their miles of teased hair, the heavy makeup and the women’s clothing (complete with spangled lace stockings and garter belts), the unsuspecting audience had already filed them away among a fast-growing legend of Motley Crue clone bands. What the audience heard, however, was a total contradiction to what they saw, and by the time they realized they’d been duped, they didn’t care. Mouths hanging open, they were enthralled. Pharoah had this audience in the bag before they finished their opening number. The Sound? Think of a cross between Duran Duran and Kiss, and you’re only just getting warm. Pharoah’s sound simply can’t be categorized. Metal fans and new music aficionados alike are going to get off on it. Pharoah throws in a little something for everybody. The Show? Ah, Now we get to the good part. Had Pharoah plunked themselves down Indian-style on stage with their guitars on their laps, the songs alone (“I’m Gonna Get You,” “She’s So Kinetic,” “Red Flag” and Terrorist,” to name a few) would have kept even this tough audience on their toes. Evidently, though, this outfit believes in giving 110 percent, because that’s what we got. Pharoah’s show is full of slick, artsy and well-executed diversions that your afraid to keep your eyes trained on any one-band member to long for fear of missing something else somewhere else on the stage. The problem is, not keeping your eyes on any one-band member for too long is no easy task. Decked out in all their androgynous finery, their stage moves epitomizing the brand of blatant, sassy flirtation patented by Marilyn Monroe, each member of Pharoah is a show in him (her) self. The real crux of Pharoah’s show, though, is video, employed with the help of television monitors. They take full advantage of the medium, using it to complement their live performance with a peppering of pre-taped surprises.  At one point vocalist Karl DeKira has an amazingly well timed chat with his own pre-recorded video image. During “Red Flag” a song with a strong antinuclear bent, we feast our eyes on mushroom clouds and war footage. Pharoah then allows themselves to be interrupted mid-song (at which time they freeze like department store mannequins) by a bogus newscast, during the course of which they burst onto the screen and prepare to assault (“Can we give it to her NOW?”) an annoying, strident-voiced anchorwoman who has been telling us about their most recent terrorist activities. After giving an audience a show like this one, no band would require an overblown finale to insure their remembrance. Pharoah gave us one anyway. Naturally. And somehow, they managed to hit upon one thing, the only thing they could possibly do to top themselves. A strip tease, deftly executed by Mr. DeKira himself. Before we new what had to hit us, the oversized T-shirt he’d been sporting all evening was discarded and there he stood in all (or most of) his glory - white lace stockings, garters, and silk bikini underwear staring us in the face. Judging from his sly facial expression, I surmised that something else big was coming up. It was. Enter a nearly naked nubile nymphet bearing an armload of flowers. She neatly gave them over to DeKira’s trust, sealed things up with a kiss, and made her exit. Then the strains of “Join our new Religion – Submit.” I watched fascinated as DeKira passed from one women in the crowd to the next, pressing the flowers between their eagerly parted teeth. The deal is, if you get close enough to the stage, you get a flower thrust between your teeth, followed by a sanctimonious kiss on the forehead. (And if you really get lucky, a drop of sweat might fall on you in the bargain, Heh, heh.) After this final spectacle, Pharoah made their departure, leaving a crowd that usually eats up-and-coming bands for lunch, standing there all agog, reluctant to have it end. But Pharoah accomplished much more than the slaying of a tough-as-nails audience. I’d thought I was going to have to kiss another frog, and they proved me wrong. I’m so happy about that, I could croak.

Kimberly Neely