The year in live touring acts

Even though Madonna didn’t stop in Big D, we got an ear full of music this year.
George Michael finally performed for his neighbors. And that gay Woodstock, True Colors, came back during Pride month. Here are a handful of live touring gigs that made an indelible impression on queer listeners.
— Daniel A. Kusner

1. George Michael
American Airlines Center, July 13.
America doesn’t love George Michael enough, and we’ve suffered dearly for it.
After the phenomenal success of "Faith," his career in the U.S. never quite reached the same heights. And it’s no surprise his most loyal fans are in Europe. This year was the first time many North Texans had seen him in the flesh in Dallas — a city he and partner Kenny Goss sometimes call home.
At times, the music was so infectiously disco-happy — like the rump-shaker "I’m Your Man" — Michael would often run out of breath while dashing across the stage and thrusting his pelvis. But when he sat on a stool to belt out "Father Figure," the audience just melted with every flutter of his pipes.

2. TRUE COLORS TOUR Center, June 22.
Oh, to be young enough to consider Cyndi Lauper, the B-52’s, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Andy Bell of Erasure "retro acts."

Most of the songs played were older than many of the fans listening to them. And those musicians helped define rock: Bell’s pulsing synth-pop; Jett’s high-energy, female-empowered garage band sensibility; the New Wave rhythms of the B-52’s; and Lauper’s infectious, inimitable pop sound. Lauper made three appearances during the show (not counting her two encores), sometimes stepping into the audience to engage with the crowd.

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of the show was the incredible diversity of those assembled. Straight couples who appeared barely out of their teens sat alongside bears and twinks who cuddled and walked arm-in-arm with nary a disapproving glance.

Acceptance, tolerance and rock n’ roll. Can’t beat that.

3. K.D. LANG
Bass Hall, Nov. 5.
Whether dancing hammy pirouettes or tenderly crooning the highest notes of her gorgeous register, K.D. Lang effortlessly proved she’s still at the top her game.
Barefoot and wearing pinstripe slacks with an ascot and cuff-linked sleeves, the Canadian’s "Watershed" tour stopped in Fort Worth the day after Obama was elected.

"It’s feeling good today in America," the Canadian told North Texas.
Her best song was "Smoke Rings," her 1997 ode to puffing that had Lang doing the hula and a soft-shoe routine.

"That song makes me wonder," she said. "What’s Laura going to do after she leaves the White House? Will she go back to selling pot? If I lived with George, I’d smoke pot. Come to think of it, I’d smoke pot if I were married to Laura, too."
Even when she’s skewing conservatives, Lang’s boyishly country-flavored charm is like a hybrid of Bobby Hill and Ferris Bueller.

House of Blues, Nov. 14.
Maybe Of Montreal’s flamboyant frontman, Kevin Barnes is post-gay. Check theses lyrics "Tim, wish you were born a girl / So I could’ve been your boyfriend."
When his bandmates slathered Barnes’ naked torso with red grease, the singer came off as a hypersexual S&M-loving tease. At one point in this rock-opera extravaganza, Barnes even draped a noose around his neck and hung himself from a two-story set. The show was a schizophrenic explosion of confetti and endless costume changes. And for an encore, Barnes and crew (they’re from Athens, Ga.) jammed to a clap-along version of John Lennon’s "Instant Karma."

House of Blues, April 24.
Michelle Shocked’s audience is indeed ever shrinking — which is bad for her, but awesome for people who still know she’s an incredible entertainer. Her 300-seat venue at the House of Blues’ Cambridge Room barely had 100 people inside. And most of them were Shocked’s relatives.

With the brilliant multi-instrumentalist Rich Armstrong accompanying Shocked, she delivered a set so emotionally raw, it would have scared Janice Joplin. Before this gig, the Big D native told Dallas Voice that she’s no longer a lesbian. On top of that, Shocked came out as born-again Christian who believes same-sex love is immoral.

Between her pastoral Lone Star State shoutouts — "Memories of East Texas" and "Anchorage" — Shocked got on her rebel soapbox, issuing left-leaning opinions about guns, war, Bush’ recession. And then she welcomed her 85-year-old grandma onstage to dance with her Asian dancing partner.

FOUR fantastic shows that weren’t necessarily QUEER

Palladium Ballroom, June 5
Those "dames of dark paranoia" that you can dance to were stunning.
Ladytron’s music sounded machine-like perfect: like Human League in a space-age convent. But the lights were the star of the show. Whenever vocalists Mira Aroyo and Helena Marnie took the mike, the lights would only brighten when they sang. As soon as the lyric was done, they’d fade. 

A dramatic technical performance, the show was a study in chiaroscuro.

The Loft, Palladium Ballroom, Oct. 11.
To hell with Amy Winehouse. Nikka burned the house down with a super-tight seven-piece band, including her horn section. The girl was uncontainable — like a hybrid of Janis Joplin and James Brown. The gig was a preview for her new disc, "Pebble to a Pearl" (Stax). She was a master performer in the tradition of old-skool blues and soul. She interacted with the crowd with plenty of call-and-response anthems. NIkka’s been in the "Where Is She Now" file since 2001. But make no mistake, she’s back — and more fierce than ever.

Oct. 10, House of Blues.
If you haven’t caught Austin duo Ghostland Observatory, better get on it. If there’s a Texan act that’s on the brink of international superstardom, it’s them.
Their music is a booty-swaying fusion of electroclash, soul and deafening glam rock. And while they only have three albums under their belt, 26-year-old singer Aaron Behrens is already an androgynous rock god — he’s undeniably sexy and possesses an explosive stage presence that’s equal parts Prince, Mick Jagger and Little Richard. But Behrens is most frequently compared to Freddie Mercury — his biggest influence.

House of Blues Dallas, Oct. 7.
Electro rapper Yelle (24-year-old Julie Buet) is the newest do-it-yourself Internet sensation. In 2005, the French chanteuse started posting floor-humping anthems on her MySpace page. This week, they played her to death on MTV’s "The City."
While not understanding a word of her sexy rhymes, Yelle’s concert was one hit after another — more infectious ditties than The Beastie Boys’ "Licensed to Ill."

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 2, 2009.
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