They are you know! Almost six inch high heels. In about a size 11. Men’s. (“Are those the Louboutins?”) And Justin Bond, in a streamlined, sequined black leggings ensemble is emerging through that awkward little back flap stage entrance-way at Joe’s Pub for another evening of his winter show run, simply entitled “Justin Vivian Bond”. It’s a softer-looking, even smoother-looking Justin, not the simmering, barely-contained Kiki DuRane persona he is so celebrated for creating, squinting eyes and war paint lipstick. Justin tonight has a touch of pale blue sparkling eye shadow and even a far away look. The lips are almost demurely pink. And the hair is a red swoop, like a protective veil for the pale, angular face. If you look closely (I have a table which is virtually on the stage) you can discern the light covering of powder masking a hint of a blue 5 o’clock shadow.
Justin’s eyes though, are very black and sharp as he launches the evening with his own song, “The New Depression”. Fronting a group of four musicians the night unfurls in a succession of quirkily individualistic songs, effortlessly threaded on a string of conversational anecdotes, confessions, and recollections in the queered, darkish vein of one of our most accomplished comical performers. Bond’s eclectic song selections, seemingly disparate stage fellows, are everything about his personal journey and map out some pretty raw and remote territory. Bambi Lake, The Golden Age of Hustlers; Scott Matthews, We All get it in the End; Joan Baez, Diamonds and Rust; Donovan, The Song of Wandering Aengus; The Carpenters, Superstar.
At 47 Justin Bond has come a long way, baby, across the ragged political, social hinterlands of the ongoing sexual revolution and an evolving narrative of gender liberation. And not much of it has been very nice, fairy dust notwithstanding. He sprang from the queer activist scene of the early nineties in San Francisco and rage was a large part of the show, a rage raw and alive for all the sublime comical settings it was nestled amidst, the blistering anti-establishment rants, the caustic, scathing teasers for the audience, the bitter self-lacerations turned inward upon the increasingly disheveled, drunken Kiki from the Kiki and Herb years. Shaken and stirred were appropriate adjectives audiences might reach for exiting a typical Bond performance, but they also couldn’t neglect that suggestion of a headache now forming on account of having laughed so hard in the duration.
Obie winner. Bessie winner. Tony nominee. “Downtown icon”. “The best cabaret artist of his generation”. “A trans-Atlantic cabaret messiah”. Tonight’s Justin, poised and relaxed, even as he loses his place at the piano and fumbles his sheet music, seems more contained, dare one say gentler? The whole ghastly spectacle of contemporary U.S. of A. is here, in the music, in his asides, in the wings, but there is a new temperance as Justin takes us with him, lightly, uptown to a Harlem hospital clinic, to a sperm donor facility room, richly realized in its shabby absurdity – a chair balanced on planks across a bath tub, a wee-wee pad on the chair, piles of empty cardboard boxes, a vintage photo image of Madonna before the fame (!) tacked to the wall – and recounts his travails in his attempt to “fill the cup”. Is it a metaphor? Or is he really on a course of estrogen and he may, someday, when he has reached the far banks of the feminine, yet wish to father a child? Perfectly sensible in the current gender-blending scientific era, of course. But, hey, it’s a very good metaphor. And there we have him, ladies, gentlemen, and others; a sound, sensible absurdist living in an impossible world, richly in touch with the comical tragedy of everyday life, however exceptionally you cut it, and emotionally alive to the restorative powers of music and song, however dark the cadence. Bravo! Go and see.