Last week I handed in a review of a recent metal concert to the editor-in-chief at Decibel Magazine. I was asked to describe 4+ hours of music and moshing in 450 words. While that was a challenge, the real kicker was that when I attended the show I wasn’t aware I’d be reviewing it later. This lead to many (MANY) beers beforehand. I’m proud of the final product, but I have no doubt my journalistic skills were severely corroded with each $1 PBR/shot of Jack I enjoyed over at Duff’s.
When I arrived at Pumps, the “anti-gentleman’s club” of Brooklyn, I was entirely dedicated to staying sober and reporting the events with unrelenting accuracy. Several empty shot glasses of Jameson later, here are my notes regarding the second performance of the Pumps Pinups, the burlesque ensemble lead by show director/creator Scarlett la Rosa. Some may be out of chronological order, because there was a strange whiskey stain (I hope?) on a few of the pages:
It’s 8:45 PM, I’ve perused the assortment of sexually-charged artwork (curated by the talented Aubrey Roemer) featuring blacklight paints, and I’m sipping a Bud while Jesse McCloskey’s charcoal drawing of a seriously unhinged witch stares at me from the wall.
Kat, who befriends everyone within thirty seconds and one smile, bartends the event with the lovely Vanessa. Kat tells me she’s “way ahead of me” and has downed several shot of Patron. She declines taking a shot with me, but changes her mind about fifty seconds later. Vanessa grimaces as she joins for a shot, with orange nails glowing in the dimness.
The girls take the stage and they’re breathtaking, all writhing against the three poles positioned on the stage. Scarlett la Rosa belts out a gentle version of Guns ‘N Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” with piano accompaniment (from Dom of the band Air of Ants). The hardcore band I drummed for in high school used to cover the song as well, but without the grace and originality.
Spank Sinatra summons the spirit of Jessica Rabbit by way of Etta James for a smoky, seductive version of “Why Don’t You Do Right?” Jessica Rabbit was my first crush, and it was deeply tragic when I learned I could not date, marry, or fuck a cartoon senseless. This song just reaffirmed my love for that bad girl, even if she was just drawn that way.
Gypsy Nyx follows with two smoothly sung songs, “Burlesque” and “All That Jazz,” while the smirking and exceptionally strong Harley Quinn stuns the audience with acrobatic pole dancing. Gypsy owns an effortless sultry confidence and sounds like she’d be perfect for a James Bond theme song.
Sophie Von Z dances with the dangerous appeal of a Prohibition era speakeasy back room striptease. Transports me to a time where I need to whisper a password through a hole in a brick wall to a scarfaced lug in a fedora to earn entrance. Luckily, liquor is easier to come by now, and entrance to see Sophie Von Z is a modest $7 cover charge.
Spank Sinatra returns to the stage, declaring after some banter with Rockett that her drug of choice is “dick.” She launches into a crowd-pleasing number I will refer to as “I Want To Be Fucked By You,” a song that fills the air with howls, whistles, and (allegedly) semen. Pure brilliance, an ode to submissive sensuality and a blunt injection of libido that shows sometimes innuendo is totally overrated.
Shanlita Bandita graces the stage for the first time as a recently dumped dame swallowed by depression after her scumbag boyfriend left her at a liquor store. She haunts the stage with a flask and a solemn trench coat before attempting the world’s first suicide by water pistol. Luckily for all of us, her aim is horrible.
Sophie Von Z dances for everyone’s communal enjoyment again, in a new golden Romany-inspired outfit with a transparent black cape. It’s a more exotic performance than her previous song, and makes me hear the distant chimes of finger cymbals and ankle bells. She sizzles, all eyes locked on the stage.
Scarlett la Rosa breaks hearts with a gorgeous red over-bust corset. Maybe I’ve frequented too many Renaissance Festivals, maybe it’s my days as a high school goth, but corsets kill me every time. She nailed the mysterious femme fatale quality that made “Sooner or Later” so hot in “Dick Tracy.” Plus, she totally out-sings Madonna.
Shanlita Bandita gleefully comes back to the stage after her successful therapy: Discovering the joys of “returning to her white trash roots” with the pleasures of boxed wine. She dances with pep and passion, rocking platform converse sneakers with clear heels that seem nineteen inches tall. She ends her energetic highlight performance by drenching herself in wine from the box’s lecherous nozzle. It was like “Flashdance” for alcoholics.
More to drink. Harley Quinn in a (crotchless) cat outfit, wiping up the white wine from the ground. She also purrs across the bar top, gathering donations for the girls. I don’t know why men have a primal attraction to women dressed as cats. I tell my girlfriend I think all men are inherently open to beastiality because of this. She says that makes her nervous about us both sharing a pet cat. Shanlita shares the box of wine with adventurous audience members. The wine tastes amazing, which signals I am thoroughly blitzed. While the stage is being cleaned and swept, the blue-haired head-banging beauty (and co-MC) Rocket Shippes pleads, “Get that broom away from me, I’m horny.”
Ms. Quinn (who Rocket claims “puts the Bang in Bangladesh) charms the audience with an erotic calm and a punk rock aesthetic. Heavily tattooed and pierced, the ladies to my left both take note of how striking she is and talk at length about her appeal. I don’t hear much besides a murmured blur and a few key words because I’m too busy staring.
Spank Sinatra again, and she keeps outdoing herself. This time it’s like she crept into my morbid fantasies and mined it for images. She comes to the stage with dramatic skull make-up, looking like the attractive female version of Papa Emeritus from Ghost B.C., which doesn’t sound like much of a compliment until you realize I’m a huge metalhead. She destroys the crowd with a macabre version of the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic “I Put A Spell On You,” a song that burns with sex appeal and has never sounded more fiery. Her performance is hotter than a long fuck in a moonlit cemetery.
Pumps owner Andy walks through the crowd and reluctantly accepts applause as Rocket destroys with one of her many viciously awesome one-liners, saying, “He’s done more for us than our dysfunctional fathers.” He’s just as happy letting the girls have the whole spotlight, despite the success of the event in his venue.
Despite some audio issues, first-time Pumps Pinup Bianca Dagga sways in a red skirt before treating the eager crowd to a striptease. She ends the performance by igniting the ends of her pastie tassels and swirling them in a perfect ring of fire that’s way hotter than anything Johnny Cash ever sang about. Huge applause ends the show, everyone’s smiling, more drinks ordered.
This show is a helluva lot of fun. I understand not everyone is as open-minded or sex-positive, but this is celebratory entertainment and a true art form. There was no creepy leering, no heckling, just a crowd totally on-board with pretty girls using their various talents to make everyone smile and go home happy. If you read my interview with Scarlett la Rosa, then you know they all achieved exactly what they wanted. I have no doubt they will overcome the mild technical glitches and obstacles they faced during the show and delight everyone with another performance in the future. This is definitely the sort of creative spirit that made New York/Brooklyn a destination for artists and artistic expression. You can wander into any Starbucks and meet a dozen writers (who haven’t actually written a word of that masterpiece novel they talk about every day for years at a time), or you can wander down to Pumps for these occasional burlesque nights and experience singing, dancing, comedy, stripteasing, photography, and cutting edge artwork all in the same evening. This is why art thrives in communities. Make yourself a part of it, because even audiences are participants.
Follow the Pumps Pinups on Twitter: @PumpsPinups
And check out the Pumps page on facebook for more information: https://www.facebook.com/pumpsbarbrooklyn