LEDERHOSEN LUCIL with PARKA 3 and jenny mitchell at Club Rockit (120 Church), Friday (April 2). $8. 416-306-9922. Rating: NNNNN
Montreal - Canada's Paris is famous for its Euro edge, the historical architecture of the old port and the sleek fashionistas who litter the sidewalks of the Saint-Laurent drag. But you'd never know it from this crowded club far north on the Main.
Sala Rossa has been transformed into a candy-coloured Pee-wee's Playhouse hallucination of giant papier mâché sunflowers, palm trees and otherworldly foliage.
In the middle of the stage, backed by two goofy-looking dudes wearing pylons on their heads, a real-life cartoon is performing. Sporting fluorescent lederhosen and long blond braids, she coos coquettishly about the lump on her wrist while cranking campy 60s garage riffs out of an amped-up keyboard. Blink and she's switched it up with an electroclash piss-take complete with lyrics about flatulence, Ladytron-chilled robo-vocals and Depeche Mode-gone-haywire dance beats.
"You can be as nasty or nice as you want on the dance floor," she crows in a faux Bavarian accent. "Everybody just look reeeeal good!" The oddball crowd goes nuts, cheering and hamming it up with Solid Gold moves and runway pouts. A frug-crazy ponytailed nerd on the floor wins a dried apricot snack for his Eurotrash flair.
Welcome to the surreal universe of Lederhosen Lucil.
"I really want to create a different world when I'm onstage," Krista Muir, Lucil's alter ego, confesses months later, sitting by a frozen-over pond in Montreal's Parc Lafontaine. "And I want the audience to engage with me so I can take them there. With the costume, I have instant access to something fantastical, and in a bar I have a context to create the universe I want to express through these songs."
She's won fans in the unlikeliest places, from the Paul Frank rep who fell in love with her persona and begged to design graphics and clothing for her, to the ecstatic authentic Germans she played for last summer in Heidelburg, to former roommate and Ninja Tune darling Kid Koala, who recruited her for a cross-country tour last fall. She impressed his reps so much that they asked her to join the next leg - in Europe.
On the street, you'd wouldn't connect Muir to her performance persona. With short brown hair and student-chic duds, she comes off as your average Concordia communications grad (which she is), albeit one with a complete boxed set of Pee-wee's Playhouse videos on her shelf and an array of fuzzy hats in her closet.
But the Kingston native is a born ham, and it comes through. Over dinner with some pals, she bursts into song, gnaws someone's arm, tells an elaborate anecdote about the perils of regular bowel movements over weeks in a tour bus. Mention Lucil in a phone conversation and she snaps into character - accent, broken English and all.
It's second nature for a girl who went from playing a munchkin in an elementary school production of The Wizard Of Oz to her dream of starring as Dorothy five years later.
Classically trained, Muir cut her teeth playing in Kingston garage bands as a teenager and almost studied music at McGill. But it wasn't till 1998, when she threw a martini party in a Palmerston Street apartment in Toronto, that she unleashed Lederhosen Lucil. She put on the shorts and broke into improv mode.
Armed with only a pair of borrowed lederhosen and a crappy vintage keyboard, Muir created her character, a bouncy Germanic goofball with a dried fruit obsession and a penchant for celebrating the banal.
"I definitely felt something click," Muir recalls excitedly. "It wasn't just me in jeans and a shirt playing grunge. It brought me back to my childhood, because I loved dressing up for musicals. And bringing that side out in me again was incredibly liberating. Improv was easy, and I could do things I'd found so difficult before. It changed my entire perspective on performing live."
She recorded her first album of lo-fi electro-pop tunes, Hosemusik, with Fembots pals Brian Poirier and Dave McKinnon in their brand new garage studio in 2001. Hamilton indie Sonic Unyon picked it up for distribution, and the quaint collection of tunes - about cutlery and all things Deutsche - hit number one on Canadian college radio charts.
While Hosemusik was popular amongst the quirky indie set, it comes off as a cute collection of demos. But last summer, when she'd amassed a colourful array of lederhosen - everything from gingham country-and-western hosen to thugged-out hiphop hosen - and perfected her live act, Muir was finally able to do her tunes justice. She holed up in a New York basement to record the delightfully developed Tales From The Pantry (Hypo Records) with producer Terence Bernardo.
Jumping between genres, languages and personalities, from the Go-Gos-ish garage-pop chirp of Doin' The Ganglion to the low-tech Bronx hiphop bluster of Semi-Sweet, Tales From The Pantry is a gargantuan leap for Muir. At times, her subversive lyrical wit and ability to morph between songs evokes a trilingual Disney version of Liz Phair's Exile In Guyville, with a dark edge.
"People somehow get the impression that it's totally happy and sweet," muses Muir. "I don't know why. The lyrics are quite sinister. The second album has creepy lyrics about hospitals and the health care system.
"At a very young age, I was told I was a sickly person. When I was seven or eight I almost died from an asthma attack - I was allergic to something in my grandmother's mouldy basement. They had to put me in an air tent, like ET. It was really traumatic.
"Later, a homeopath diagnosed me with candida and food sensitivities. It was amazing. She put me on this horrible diet of cutting out sugars and all these other things that I was pretty much addicted to. I came off them like I was on heroin!"
That obsession with health threads through Muir's music, and it's intricately connected to fascinations with bodily functions and food. She actually had her own catering company when she was nine, and pulled in pocket money baking cakes for her mom's friends' baby showers. She called herself the Short Chef and was interviewed at the time by CBC Radio. All of which explains the juxtaposition of lyrics about brown rice, TVP, burritos and refined sugar alongside images of evil authority figures in white lab coats.
Everyone may not get the intense personal bent of some of Muir's tunes, but it's the combo of twisted subject matter, MTV-generation short-attention-span pop pastiche and over-the-top performance that makes Lederhosen Lucil a fascinating pop phenomenon.
Back in the martini party days, Muir never would've predicted her kitschy caricature would be this successful. Yet she knows she can't keep bastardizing German forever.
"It's like any good musical - characters run certain courses. This is the year of the Lucil, and then I'll move on. Will I start not liking the character? Maybe. Will I start getting annoyed with her hairstyles and having to keep up her pretty outfits? For sure. But I've invested a lot in this character, and so have other people. And I love to give the audience what they want."