Review: The Tiger Lillies

The talented trio get through 19 tracks in this cabaret set on the US-Mexico border, but you'll search in vain for a hint of fiesta

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Showing as part of Home’s annual Spanish and Latin American festival Viva, Corrido De La Sangre is a new production from cult alternative cabaret trio The Tiger Lillies.

Set in a dusty town somewhere on the border between Mexico and the US, the fairy-tale like story, such as it is, revolves around a singer and his band who return annually from the realm of the dead to recount the story of how they came to meet their end.

It’s a sparse but impressively staged production. A ragged curtain backdrop acts as a screen onto which visuals are projected, including some creepy shadow puppetry, videos of marionettes acting out the scenes being described in the songs and trippy images of slowly blooming flowers and rotating skulls.

There’s no denying the talent of this trio. Within the hour and a half set a range of instruments are brought out for the 19 tracks played. Martyn Jaques has an accordion almost permanently wedged between his hands, except when he takes to the piano or is strumming a ukulele. Andreas Winter handles a small drum and percussion and the impressive Adrian Stout is rightly applauded for his work on the bass/euphonium/musical saw and much more.

Then there’s Jaques’s falsetto voice. To those not acquainted with The Tiger Lillies’ unique sound, the singer’s performance style could be something of a challenge. His ability to hold an operatic note is impressive, but at the other times his voice cracks, screeches and, well, to these delicate ears anyway, rather grates. It also feels out of kilter with the performance as a whole, channelling as it does more pre-war Berlin cabaret artiste than broken-hearted corrido singer.

The performance is at times haunting, but it’s also persistently sombre. One of the standout tracks is Don Hector, when, in a rare moment of humour and mischief, the undead trio recount the time they sang at the drug lord’s weeding, listing all his evil flaws and misdeeds. But this is sandwiched between rather one-note mournful tales of loss and hopelessness that blend into one another.

Hearing the phrase “Day of the Dead” one might hope for at least a hint of fiesta in there somewhere and a nod towards some mariachi, but there’s no horn to be heard.

It looks really impressive and it’s clear from the audience’s reaction that The Tiger Lillies have a dedicated and enthusiastic fan following who clearly love what they do, but it’s also fair to say this bold bit of programming on the part of Home won’t be to everyone’s tastes.

The Tiger Lillies: Corrido De La Sangre is on at Home, Manchester until 5 May

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