This year Meltdown Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary in style with an iconic artist and musician as its guest curator; Yoko Ono has developed a unique programme of music and events that showcase some of her favourite artists and influences.
Tonight Jewish born Merrill Nisker is performing her UK Debut of Peaches Christ Superstar at Queen Elizabeth Hall. This is not Peaches’ first time at Meltdown, having performed for two previous curators; David Bowie (2002) and Massive Attack (2008).
Peaches Christ Superstar is a stripped down adaptation of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, which was controversially banned in Germany back in 2010. In a recent interview with the Guardian, Peaches was quoted as saying “Andrew Lloyd Webber banned me from doing it but I figured, you don’t say no to Yoko…”
As darkness falls in Queen Elizabeth Hall, the only object on stage is a grand piano under the spotlight. To the right another light beams down revealing Peaches with her bright blonde mullet and white leotard with padded tubular hood. A relatively conservative outfit for the gender bending electro queen.
At this very moment, Yoko Ono walks out of a backstage door and takes a seat only four rows in front of me. Huge hat, big sunglasses, a leather jacket covered with gold and jewel studs, tiny and distinctively recognisable. I’m totally star struck.
Peaches begins, her voice booming out like a tsunami soundwave over the audience. Accompanied by a blonde faceless pianist with his back to the audience, using an iPad in lieu of sheet music he turns the pages with the lightest of technology touches.
Peaches is playing every character, her facial expressions flicking between Jesus, Mary, Judas and Pilate, her body movement changing with each line. At one point she sways side to side with her back turned bopping along to the music of her one-Peach show.
When a woman arrives late and takes the seat in front of me only to start checking and replying to her emails on a brightly lit phone screen, I find myself glaring at the back of her head in a classic British attempt to say something. How can you be replying to your emails whilst Mary ‘Peaches’ Magdalene’s heart pours with passion on stage?
At the end of Act 1 we have a short interval, where I spend my time eavesdropping on a group of three girls sat behind me trying to understand what is going on. “Do you think she is trying to convert us?”…“Is she telling us that she’s converting?” – No and no. What seemed to escape my three fellow audience members was that this was the UK debut of Peaches Christ Superstar, she wasn’t preaching but instead performing a truly unimaginable feat with perfection.
The second act begins and there’s been a costume change, the only one of the night, something which is unusual during Peaches’ usual shows. Head to toe in gold lamé, her mullet done up in a quiff, Peaches wears leggings and a massive Michelin man style space jacket, finished off with heavy gold glitter eye makeup that’s visible from the audience. The pianist joined the gold theme by donning a silk gold jacket to match his silky golden hair.
Peaches is just as impressive, if not more so, than in the first act. Astounding vocals that you just don’t appreciate in her electro-pop songs. At points throughout this versatile performance she is both choir boy and gospel singer, completely enchanting as both.
The sexual extrovert we are used to seeing in her shows was not completely in hiding and did surface in the form of Pilate, tugging at an ever present imaginary dick as she sang “change my water into wine” and moonwalking backwards proclaiming “walk across my swimming pool” ending in the splits.
Pumped up by Peaches’ fist in the air, the audience shout “Cru-ci-fy him! Cru-ci-fy him!”, which she follows by flogging the stage 39 times with a whip as smoke swirls beneath her.
The performance ends with Peaches Christ Superstar stepping onto a gold box (lamé of course), with a gold tubular sheet pulled up to her waist and topped with a crown of lamé thorns. Arms outstretched as if on a crucifix Peaches stands singing as members of the audience run down to the front, climbing on to the stage to form her own trance rave congregation, their arms flailing one minute, hands together in prayer the next.
The show ends with a standing ovation, as she crowns her blonde pianist and claps the audience. I look over and catch a beaming Yoko in the corner. This was a show stopping performance, which displayed Peaches’ talents in all their glory. In her own words, Peaches has described this show as “an eruption of emotions”. No-one in their right mind would try and do what Peaches has done tonight, but she did and she was fierce!