Kelly and the Kellygirls at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina), Friday (September 24). $7. 416-777-1777. Rating: NNNNN
With penchants for drag, jizz metaphors and ripping off his clothes whenever there's an audience, R. Kelly Clipperton has made a decent name for himself around town as a performer, photographer and stylist.
The former frontman of Merkury Burn started gigging with his new band, Kelly and the Kellygirls, pretty much immediately after calling it quits with said goth camp queer outfit a couple of years ago, and now the Kellygirls (and Kelly) are launching a new record, Swing Swing, tomorrow (Friday) night at the El Mocambo, featuring guest performers and a White Trash Buffet.
It's all very exciting.
And it debuted at number 17 on CFCR Saskatoon radio. You know you've made it when that happens.
"It was just like out of nowhere! Number 17," laughs Clipperton over coffee at a Second Cup. "I was like, 'Wow, it wasn't even at number 30 last month, and now it's at number 17. That's exciting.' And now it's broken the top 30 at one in Kamloops as well."
I wonder if he has any theories about why those parts of the country seem to love him so much.
"They're lovin' it over there. I'm thinking maybe most independent bands don't consider sending their stuff to places like that, so when they get stuff that's a little bit different they start playing it."
A far cry from the trash wave of Merkury Burn, Swing Swing is a soulful, bluesy swing rock record merging all these elements with ska, pop and glam and adding instruments like flamenco guitars, congas, cello, piano and horns.
Clipperton's rich baritone features prominently, oozing and dripping all over the love songs, laments, sexed-up skankers (that's skank as in the dance, not as in skanky) and catchy pop tracks.
"It's grown on me," he says. "I don't know that when I finished it I was sure that this was what I wanted to do, because I was missing being raunchy and being crazy and all that stuff. But then I listened a little more and I like it."
One thing that stands out is a pervasive feeling of sadness, which is interesting because Clipperton has always struck me as the kind of guy who's usually in a pretty good mood. You know, the type of upbeat person who has a million friends and punctuates his e-mails with exclamation points.
"That's what my best friend, Dee, said, too," he says. "She calls me up and she's like, 'Kel, I'm calling right now because I'm listening to your record and it's very sad, so I just want to make sure you're OK.' And I'm like, 'I'm fine,' so she says, 'Good. The record's sad. Buhbye.'
"I guess that's how I work out that sadness. That's where I put it and keep it so it doesn't get me too much every day."
It's about venting and purging, he says.
He points out that the songs I'm referring to (they're not all dismal and woebegone) were written when he left Merkury Burn.
"Those were written within a week of my decision to leave the band, and it was a very sad time for me. I cried all the way through writing Take Care Of Me. I just had to get it out."
But don't you worry. Clipperton hasn't gotten all wimpy on your ass and is still the same big gay madman onstage he always was.
"I remember when Kellygirls first started, I was like, 'I'm gonna wear suits, I'm not gonna do the underwear thing any more, blah blah blah. Well, it's slowly coming back around. I start off a lot more clothed, but I'm usually wearing a lot less by the end.
"I can't keep my clothes on. That's just who I am."