CocoRosie are the embodiment of that hazy line where a band ends and performance art begins. Invited to perform at the Southbank Centre’s annual Meltdown Festival by curator and collaborator Antony Hegarty, the eccentric sister duo of infinite influences have often been associated with the pejorative pigeonhole of ‘freak folk’. But, although they might linger on the fringes of the spiritually-inclined world culture shared by the likes of Devendra Banhart and, of course, Antony & the Johnsons, the Royal Festival Hall is sold out and there’s no question of the tireless touring band’s global influence –even when coming up against the Olympics.
Fitting comfortably within a two week celebration of diversity -from Laurie Anderson, Boy George and even Turkish singer and political icon Selda Bağcan -CocoRosie and their supports (dis)embody that very spirit of creative freedom and universal acceptance. You needn’t look beyond their audience, where a group of brightly-styled New Aged hippies line up in pink and purple Afghans or a woman dressed as what could only be described as a hall of mirrors caricature of Marie-Antoinette congregate, along with those less visibly progressive CocoRosie fanatics.
By the time CocoRosie‘s moment arrives, all bums are in seats and anticipation at its peak for the enveloping of their private New Weird American reality. Presenting as a carnival of different creatures from outside the heteronormative square, a masked beat boxer, a bassist and a trumpeter who uses his fedora as a mute join the two women; Sierra, parading around in a frilly green leotard and thick woollen tights, Bianca, in her characteristic drag, this time role-playing as a combination construction worker, grid iron player and futurist beekeeper. With a harp, a grand piano and an array of pedals and vocoders, the scene of an otherworldly jazz club is made all the more surreal as Bianca plays a snake charmer’s pungi; her construction shorts and straw hat lighting up inexplicably. The familiar tones of Sierra’s harp ebb through early Noah’s Ark tracks, surging in and out of recognisability as they mix and meld ideas from across their catalogue into a dreamlike sequence of events, rather than songs.
The contrast between Sierra’s operatic vocal and Bianca’s eerily childlike scat (part rap, part free association poetry) is no more apparent than in a live setting, especially when the former sister suddenly drops register and sings with the same uncanny innocence indistinguishable from her younger sibling. Under the enchantment of beautiful chaos that is disparate elements of folk, hip hop, classical and electronica trapped in a loop of endless configurations, every emotion and experience, good or bad, is given equal weight in CocoRosie’s oeuvre. In the same way, people, objects and ideas are afforded the same level of respect. A projection of the film shot with Australian director Emma Freeman begins with new track ‘We Are on Fire’ and continues for the remainder of the performance, showing people from all walks of life in slow motion and high definition and revealing their inherent beauty.
Before you know it, after a brief intermission where beatboxer Tez entertains the audience with renditions of 90s pop and dance hits, the set is over and the audience begging for more, not once but twice. CocoRosie finally cough up ‘Beautiful Boyz’ at the very last moment, with all the band and their supports on stage. Nomi Ruiz fills in for Antony’s duet and joins in finishing off an audience stunned by the afterglow of a what you might call a masterpiece of romance; that poignant sadness of a life lived in its inherent brutality and the beauty found within it.
Antony’s Meltdown Festival is on at the Southbank Centre August 1 –15, 2012 and CocoRosies’s ‘We Are on Fire’/ ‘Tearz for Animals’ 7-inch is out now on PIAS.