Sexing the Alternative Nation

The Suicide Girls burlesque yesterday's burlesque

Everyone with any bit of passion for live music is familiar with downtown St. Petersburg's State Theatre. It was built in the '20s, a sort of mid-budget take on the overblown movie palaces of the emerging age, and it originally played host to both films and the occasional live-entertainment event. The building's facade still bears traces of that era's opulence, with its concrete gargoyles and overhung flourished marquee.Inside, however, beyond its lobby-and-showroom layout, it now bears little resemblance to movie theaters of any generation. These days, the State looks like exactly what it is — a cavernous, barely adorned space where people stand, drink and watch bands, preferably of the raw, raucous, visceral variety.

From time to time, somebody or another secures the theater for a non-musical event. A fashion show, a fundraiser, a wedding. The reaction of these shindigs' patrons to their surroundings is inevitably mixed. Often, there are complaints, usually from people too uptight to truly enjoy themselves in any environment less suited to their narrow personalities than, say, their homes, or maybe a nightclub that looks like a nightclub in a bad but really expensive movie. Still, while the State is a great place to see a rock show, it can be an iffy place to see anything that's not a rock show.

The Suicide Girls Tour, a live burlesque/ striptease spectacle representing the heavily buzzed porn/pinup/indie-culture website Suicidegirls.com, has three things going for it that most one-off State fetes do not: 1. an association with the punk/Goth/emo hipster factions that already frequent the theater; 2. a fairly high national profile; and 3. titties.

Over the last few years, the website has garnered copious amounts of press both above and below the world's pop-culture sightline. Though ostensibly a combination online community (a la Friendster, LiveJournal, etc.) and fringe-lifestyle news outlet, the page is most widely known and covered for its most enticing feature, the Suicide Girls themselves: young women, artily photographed in various states of undress, whose tattoos, body piercings, dyed hair and other visual references to contemporary hipness mark them, literally, as proudly antithetical to the stereotypes of erotica. Independent, largely female-run and solidly positioned as an empowering alternative to mainstream men's entertainment, suicidegirls.com markets itself as so punk rock, it might as well be music.

Also, there are titties.

That a live show put on by an entity famous for posting nude photos of strong-willed ladies who dig ink, edgy music and torn black fishnets might be an attractive way to spend an evening is, really, a no-brainer. The real question is, would it be more or less than the Alternative Nation version of Mons Venus, and would anyone care either way?

Naturally, there was a line running down the block and around the corner at least an hour before the doors opened at 9 p.m. By the time I entered the building, as the second of two pre-main event bands hit the stage, the State's lobby was as full, moist and pungent as a can of sardines left to swell on a summer Phoenix sidewalk. The crowd skewed heavily toward the alt-lifestylers I see at all-ages concerts and "punk" mall-chain store Hot Topic (though there were plenty of quiet longhaired dudes and extremely loud frat guys) and seemed split fairly evenly between the genders. The ladies in the show could've been wandering through the throng, but there were enough striking young women here with tattoos and/or piercings and/or blocky black eyeglasses that you'd never successfully discern a Suicide Girl. And that's part of the point. That they look, act and live no differently than your average Warped Tour attendee is the key to the website's resonance with both Generation Irony sexes.

Following the live music and customary interminable intermission (during which everyone packed into the theater tried to get out into the already-packed lobby to get a beer at the already-overwhelmed bar), the lights went down, and things got off to a classic-burlesque start, to the tune of "Hey Big Spender."

Though it ran through various modern musical genres and campy scenarios (a dance-off, a choreographed catfight), the show's format stuck largely to time-honored striptease. One to four girls would saunter onstage in skimpy, often creative costumes — I particularly enjoyed the giant, striped Dr. Seuss-style necktie — to strut, preen, step and remove most of said costumes, leaving the stage in panties and pasties. The biggest differences between the Suicide Girls show and your average old-school French Quarter revue were in the choice of sonic accompaniment, and the girls themselves; a range of body types adorned the stage, often mocking the standard media model of beauty, and most of them bore permanent body-art running from the subtle to the ostentatious. The lack of props and backdrops lent a punky, no-frills vibe to the affair. It occasionally sank to the implication of low-budget half-assery, as when the music was cut off or miscued, but it mostly served to focus attention on the women themselves.

After the first few numbers, the wolf-whistles and deafening roars faded a bit, and the crowd-chatter rose. There were many who seemed a bit miffed when it dawned on them that the girls weren't going to drop to the boards and begin performing cunnilingus on each other — I honestly heard the phrase "I should've just gone to a strip club" at least seven times, and in the men's room, one patron of the arts opined that what the girls really needed was to "get fucked."

Those ignorant of or simply unimpressed by the fact that striptease is about titillation more than genitalia began to cut and run about three-quarters of the way through the show. By the time the Suicide Girls deigned to give the mooks a bit of what they wanted, closing the show en masse on a tarp and showering each other (and the first few rows) with whipped cream, many of the unfulfilled had already gone home, probably to fulfill themselves.

Their loss.

"It's not about objectification," said Suicide Girl Violet after the show. "It's about celebrating sensuality."

Siren, who serves as choreographer and den mother as well as performing, put it a little more succinctly.

"There's probably a strip club right down the road," she said. "Have a good time."

Contact Scott Harrell at 813-248-8888, ext. 109, or by e-mail at [email protected].

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