Hell On Heels Tour | Semi Precious Weapons / Nico Vega / Von Iva | The Khyber (Philadelphia, PA) | February 2, 2009
“Don’t Light Them! Light Me! I’m the one who spent 60 minutes making my face fucking flawless!” spat the Seberg-esque platinum, from the stage of the Khyber, as stagehands frantically scurried to fix the lighting situation. Decked out in lycra and patent leather stilettos, Semi Precious Weapons’ front-thang, Justin Tranter clearly knows just how fucking fabulous he really is. With Miss Guy spending more time on the turntables than onstage and Theo Kogan displaying herself in more designer ads than punk rock dives, Mr. Tranter has taken the crown as Brooklyn’s #1 blonde bombshell. This February Tranter brought his garage glam outfit to Philly for the most explosive display of glittering grime since the passing of Mr. Thunders.
That cold Monday night Semi Precious Weapons played the part of headliner of the Hell on Heels Tour, a crass display of glamour. The tour was rounded out with Nico Vega, a wonderfully subversive take on epic pop aesthetics, and the quintessential disco punks, Von Iva. The crowd that turned out was 50% leather jackets and 50% American Apparel headbands, and although it was far from packed, the bands were each treated as the rock stars they truly are.
Von Iva began the evening with the most enticing (yes, Justin, you’re just going to have to deal with that little factoid) set of the night. Opening with “Guise” and going on to play the majority of their Girls on Film EP, the San Francisco trio (impressively, lacking any stringed instruments) proceeded to show just how chic can be badass. The coyness Becky Kupersmith exudes from behind the keys is both impossibly sensuous and a fantastic “fuck you” to those who don’t look as fabulous as she does (which is pretty much everyone); drummer Kelly Harris managed to maintain John Bonham-esque posturing while beating a sleek and classy funk into “Livin For It;” and vocalist Jillian Iva found herself climbing drum kits, and making her way through the audience to man-handle and throw those not dancing adequately into a disco pit, all without breaking a sweat or even stretching her painted-on designer jeans.
Aja, lead vocalist of Nico Vega, also made her way into the crowd during her band’s set, although her appearance amidst the masses of the Khyber could hardly be described as chic (despite what appeared to be a very alluring designer dress). As the only vocalist of the night lacking the mandatory heels, or shoes at all, for that matter, Aja spastically contorted and vibrated across stage and floor alike in an audacious and directionless rapture. Ms. Aja might just be the songstress that those of taste have been yearning for ever since Karen O signed a major label deal. The group’s set was comprised of songs from their self-titled debut, such as “Wooden Dolls,” “Gravity” and “Blood Machine.” Nico Vega’s sound displays an understanding of traditional musicality and a burning desire to smash that musicality to pieces, contrasting pleasantly strummed folk with inaudible howls and standard blues guitar with schizophrenic vocal spasms. The audience’s reaction to Nico Vega was that of being both excited to see them and horrified to get too close. This was not the case of their touring partners, however, as Justin and Jillian were both happy to shake their asses down front for the majority of the set, which was admittedly pretty fucking awesome. It felt like bouncing around the 100 Club with Chrissie Hynde and Siouxsie Sioux while the Pistols were onstage… okay, that might be a slight exaggeration.
Although the Hell on Heels tour boasts the most sparkling solid lineup of recent years (or possibly decades), it was clear that Semi Precious Weapons were the main event, as people packed themselves against the stage of the Khyber in hopes of catching a piece of that sass dripping from Mr. Tranter. Semi Precious Weapons’ set was a beautiful pastiche of vanity, vulgarity, and androgyny as violent as it was glittering. By the end of their eponymous opening number, as Tranter shouted “I got a diamond in my pocket and a gun in my purse, Scream Semi Precious Weapons, Or you might get hurt,” you were a little worried that he wasn’t kidding. Although the set was comprised of only half of the band’s debut LP, We Love You, along with one new song, it’s unlikely that either audience or band would’ve been able to take another number. “Magnetic Baby” gave Tranter a chance to express his possibly certifiable narcissism in a slightly more eloquent way than he ever managed to during between-song banter, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Never Looked So Beautiful” brought epic, arena-sized Glam to the dregs of the Old City bar, and “That’s Kunt” gave the entire audience the chance to shout “Kunt” repeatedly… and how often do you get to do that in public? Although bassist Cole Whittle attempted various Ratt-inspired acrobatics with his instrument, it was clear that, under the beer lights of the Philly dive, Justin was the only Ziggy and the rest of the band were clearly the Spiders From Mars. Tranter’s grotesquely bombastic stage antics and clever and unapologetic arrogance are exactly what should be defining the next generation of Rock N Roll. He flung himself about the stage like a Barbie doll being thrown across the room by an older brother in leather driving gloves and a tattered Highway to Hell tee. At times he was climbing the walls, at times he was crawling across the stage like he wanted to be your dog, and at times working himself up into an almost vomit-esque state. After working himself into such a state, during the only lull in the set, in between absurdly heavy breathes, Tranter confidently proclaimed: “There’s nothing hotter than a borderline tranny puking… that’s what I’ve always said.”