Flaming Creatures & Burning Words At Firestage

I'm a sucker for omens. After getting a coffee from the Cafe Alamut in the back area of the Firehouse, sitting in a chair that felt like it would collapse underneath my considerable weight at any moment, I waited for the show to start. 

Firestage has an anything-goes spirit, which make the shows both great chaotic fun and wildly inconsistent. But when I heard a song by a band I adore, "So Tough" by The Slits, playing over the speakers just minutes before host Ernasty took the stage, I felt in my bones that tonight's show would be a great one.

And it was, with one notable, screeching exception.

Firestage is hosted by Ernesto Moncada, who was wearing Alice Cooper-ish makeup and rocking a Charlie Chaplin cane. The show started with Greenwood Sidee, a 3-piece old-timey act that played some nifty songs on dulcimer, violin, bass, banjo and guitar. One of their verses looped in my head throughout the night: single girl/single girl/on Facebook all the time/married girl/married girl/can barely get online.

Poets Mikel Weisser and Mr. Frip read some of their work before a few musical acts took the stage. Michael Plunkett strummed a few songs, blew a kazoo, and scat-sang like Pee-Wee Herman getting his testicles squeezed by an orangutan. Stego from Prescott played a handful of jammy, psychedelic-tinged songs as liquid light projection worked its magic behind them, making it look like the drummer was trapped inside a giant lava lamp. The music sounded pretty good, but the singer's gawky voice was just painful to listen to at times.

Anna Moncada played a couple of tunes on a harmonium, followed by a pair of ladies who put the "fire" in Firestage. Zoe ate fire, followed by Provocatease's Madame C who, after doing a chain untangling burlesque number to Ray Charles' "Unchain My Heart", spat plumes of fire like the world's sexiest dragon.

Firestage has had several talented improv troupes onstage to do short sets. These rarely go well. I've seen good improv groups like Unicorn Warpath die onstage because drunk assholes watching the show can't keep their mouths shut. So I was quite surprised that Robot Destroyers From Planet Earth, the 2 man team of Tommy Cannon and Kevin Patterson (standing in for original Robot member Arturo Ruiz), did the impossible: a smooth, funny as hell, nearly heckle-free improv set at the Firestage.

Leslie Barton did some standup comedy, presenting a slew of new filthy sex acts for ladies only, including the burnt-into-my-brain-now "Car Wash" ("you wait til he goes down on you, and then you piss all over his face"). Once Barton finished, the next two acts to follow were the best and the worst thing I saw at Firestage that night.

The best was Kara Roschi's performance art piece, where she invited seven audience members onstage to be her suitors in an "arranged marriage". Giving them hollowed-out egg necklaces to wear and later smashing the eggs against their chests with the palm of her hand, Roschi picked her husband-to-be and drew slips of paper out of a hat describing ways a couple can achieve intimacy (which included hand-holding, kissing with their eyes open, and holding her hair back while she mimed vomitting). The fact that a performance art piece about intimacy, done close to midnight in front of a crowd of people getting drunker by the minute, didn't get heckled and was left to play out its sweet course onstage was kind of a miracle. And they were getting drunker: you could gauge the collective sobriety level of Firestage by watching the number of people falling on their ass on Cafe Alamut's ramp.

The worst was the Unfiltered Sound, a band whose performance that night felt like an act of divine retribution against me personally. Every screeching vocal, every note played by the band felt like God Herself saying to me, "Go fuck yourself, you silly bastard" over and over again. I couldn't tell if they were just a terrible band or if they were trying to be a terrible band on-purpose as some kind of performance art thing.

More poetry and music followed the Unfiltered Shit, leading up to the bizarre climax of the evening, when The Brown Notes organized a catching-baloney-with-your-mouth contest, hurling slices of the lunch meat into the crowd. The last act of the night was Todos Pedos , the only act I ended up missing. They were taking awhile to set up, and after hearing Kevin Patterson read a delightful poem about chupacabras, it felt like the right time to split. 

More than four hours of entertainment on a Friday night that cost zero dollars: it was worth having to sit through some awful music for all that good stuff.

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