Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 29 / 20 July 2017
 

Justin Vivian Bond

BARtab

The award-winning chanteuse pops back to Oasis


Justin Vivian Bond
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"I'm trying to practice radical empathy," says Justin Vivian Bond of the unique performance style that balances whimsy, sincerity and laugh-out-loud humor with songs and stories, all of which has brought Mx Bond deserved accolades.

After developing the now legendary Kiki & Herb cabaret act in the Bay Area, then conquering the New York cabaret scene, performing in Europe and touring elsewhere, Bond returns to San Francisco for two shows at Oasis on January 31 and February 1. In a phone interview from New York, Bond discussed some recent adventures, and how to balance politics with entertainment.

After the sold-out return of Bond's holiday show, The Bipolar Express at Joe's Pub in Manhattan, Bond will offer a hint of that show (minus the Christmas stuff) in the San Francisco concerts, with some surprises.

"I have a whole Red State section, to see things from another perspective," said Bond. "I also have a section where I talk about mental health, which is a bit from BiPolar Express, but we still need that. And I do a tribute to the early '70s 'Girl in Trouble' movies of the week. There are some surprise songs that are really beautiful."

Bond's list of collaborators reads like a Who's Who of queer arts, including Mx's band, and the collective House of Whimsy.

Bond is curating a night for the Live Arts Festival (with Bill T. Jones as Artistic Director). Mx'd Messages will feature Kate Bornstein, Lynn Breedlove, Severely Mame and others.

"We're exploring non-binary approaches to the world," said Bond, who is known as one of the most accomplished transgender performers in live theatre and cabaret. "That's gonna be fun."

This and several other programs will be at Manhattan's Live Arts Theatre scheduled for March 14 to 19 (www.newyorklivearts.org). This summer, John Waters and Sandra Bernhard will join Bond's return to hosting the Speigeltent at Bard College, where Bond also teaches (www.fishercenter.bard.edu/spiegeltent/).

Of course, many local friends remember Bond's recent New Years Eve shows at The Herbst Theatre, and the saucy cabaret show at Feinstein's where Mx donned a patchwork gown made of porn playing cards.

Justin Vivian Bond performing with Nath Anne Carrera at Joe's Pub. photo: Earl Dax

Before the 2007 Tony nomination for Kiki and Herb Alive On Broadway, (and the Obie, Bessie and Ethyl Eichelberger Award wins) some recall Bond's early incarnations as Kiki DuRane with Kenny Melmann in San Francisco nightclubs from the early 1990s, "which makes them old," Bond quipped with affection for longtime fans.

"It was a terrifying and fun time, because we were young," Mx added. "And our shows were slightly terrifying."

True, some couldn't tell the difference between the creative organized chaos and the spontaneous chaos of the Kiki & Herb shows. Bond promises an equal dose of practiced musical renditions of original and classic songs with a twist, plus a bit of spontaneity that merited all those awards.

Since moving to New York, Bond has become quite the fashion and pop culture icon as well, having graced the covers of many publications.

At a recent Gucci party in Rome, Bond performed a few songs with collaborator and ex-partner Nath Anne Carrera at the 400-year-old Biblioteca Angelica.

"I decided to get goddessy and witchy for that show," said Bond. "We performed 'Twenty-Second Century,' and 'The Golden Age of Hustlers' from my album Dendrophile. Gucci's new creative director, Alessandro Michel, is brilliant and super-nice; they just made a new line that's all queercore."

Asked about any fashion keeps from the show, Bond said, "I did not keep the mink-lined kimono, but I got a nice cream-colored suit, so if they ever decide to revive Fantasy Island, I can be Mxtress Roarke."

Justin Vivian Bond, over the moon.
photo: Tammy Shell

Despite the global travels, Bond stays in touch with old friends and colleagues. The night before our interview, Bond saw San Francisco comic Marga Gomez' solo show Latin Standards at The Public Theatre.

"She's so great," said Bond. "She's another one who's a bit bicoastal. Her show references her New York family, but also the days of Esta Noche in San Francisco."

At the mention of lost and new venues in San Francisco, including A.C.T.'s renovated Strand Theater, Bond recalled one of the earliest shows in Mx's career.

"Before Kiki and Herb, Kenny and I did a New Year's Eve variety show hosted by Philip R. Ford, called The He/She Follies. It was quite the line-up. I think I sang 'The Man That Got Away' and 'Don't Rain on my Parade.' I thought those would be a lot better than they were."

Bond recalled visiting the original Oasis in San Francisco, and recalled a "trashy fun" party hosted by Lewis Walden and Michael Blu.

"I'm very excited to play there," said Bond. "My show is really about what's going on in the world; Red versus Blue, how we need to not just resist but infiltrate."

By infiltrate, Bond means somewhere between coasts.

"I want to do this show in different places," Mx said. "Someone was talking about 'the liberal bubble.' I wish I lived in a fucking bubble! I don't feel like I'm safe and protected from all this crazy shit that's going on. I'm willing to step out of the bubble.

"I want to go to places where queers are in red states, to perform a sort of U.S.O. show, like back in San Francisco. People would come to see our shows and to be with other people around them who are like-minded; they would form community."

Music isn't the only platform for the multi-talent. Bond is also an accomplished essayist, film actor, and the author of the Lambda Literary Award-winning memoir, Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels.

Nath Anne Carerra and Justin Vivian Bond performing in Rome at Bibliotecha Angelica for a Gucci party.

"It's really important as a live artist to bring people together who have a point of view about what you're saying, so they know they're not the only people who are pissed off or scared or inspired by something," said Bond. "They can actually find other people with whom to relate. The more that happens, the more powerful minorities become."

Bond described a recent Houston show as fun, and looks forward to an Orange County show after San Francisco.

"Even in blue states like upstate New York last summer where I performed, that's much more red. I could see that for these people, the writing was literally on the wall. I saw barns with the sides painted 'Trump.' Yet people went out of their way to see my show, and were so enthusiastic. As long as they're able to laugh at things, they'll be fine."

Asked about updates made to the show, Bond framed it as beyond the topical. "The ecstasy of outrage has been going on for a long time."

Bond will perform with bandmates Matt Gray (pianist and musical director who recently accompanied Taylor Mac's epic show featuring 24 decades of American music), Bay Area-now-New York guitarist Nath Anne Carerra, and violinist Claudia Chopeck.

"We've been touring together for the past several years, and doing a lot of shows in New York. We have a big repertoire of songs, but I'll surprise them once in a while. That's why the show is called '...Shows Up.' I want to show up and be in the moment. Things are changing so quickly. I am not interested in doing static art. I never have been."

That spontaneity is what keeps audiences surprised by Bond's sometimes wild, and ultimately heartfelt, shows.

"I like touring now," Bond continued. "The way things are going in the world, I like seeing how people are feeling about everything. It's often reassuring to find out that not everybody hates everybody. It's important to get out to these small places, and perform for people who never see someone say the crazy stuff I say. We have to unleash the queen, as we used to say."

Bond mentioned an upcoming show in Costa Mesa which will probably be "totally different. I might be more confrontational in Orange County, because it's more of a Republican area. In San Francisco, I feel I have a similar world view. I won't have to yell at the people. They already know!"

Expect that magical blend of musical dexterity, goddess-like wisdom, and outright hilarity.

"I'm excited to see who shows up," said Bond. "I've got a lot of old pals there. Lord knows I love those queens. The last time I performed in San Francisco, I was given lots of drugs from the audience. They wouldn't let me drink onstage, so I asked for a Valium. No flowers for Mama; just pills."

 

Justin Vivian Bond performs at Oasis, January 31 and February 1 at 8pm. $25-$40. 298 11th St. www.justinvivianbond.com www.sfoasis.com









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