By Jeff Walsh
Let's address the obvious straight away. Evelyn Evelyn, the conjoined twin sister singing duo that played San Francisco this weekend, aren't lesbians, or gay, or trans, which may raise the flag of why I'd be reviewing their show for a gay youth site.
I find this sort of thinking to miss the mark entirely. Growing up as conjoined sisters gives them a unique take on life, sure, but it still shines the same light on all of the same issues we see here on a regular basis: difference, adversity, trying to fit in, and trying to pull away from a gift that you were given at birth. For the Neville sisters, it's one another; for everyone else, your sexuality.
As they sing in the bridge to their namesake song: "I never asked for this! I never wanted this! All that I want is some time to myself!" Sound familiar?
With that out of the way, seeing the sisters in their reluctant spotlight at the Great American Music Hall on Sunday night was inspiring. Even with the adoration from the crowd, the sisters always seemed timid and uncomfortable being center stage. In the darkness, they told the tale of their horrible upbringing through an inventive use of shadow puppets, giving us a peek at the tragedy that hangs just underneath the surface of their songs.
Songs like "Chicken Man" seemed to press on exposed nerves that the sisters aren't ready to display publicly, with one sister freaking out and forcing the duo to end the song early. Even without hearing the whole song, the audience felt the unquestionable, albeit unspoken, horrors the twins suffered under the hands of the Chicken Man. The only lyric in the song is "Chicken Man," but everyone in the house feared what this man was capable of.
Most of the show was more relaxing and enabled the awkward charm of the sisters to shine through as they played most of the songs from their recent eponymous album. Songs like "Elephant Elephant," about the conjoined elephant that the sisters rode in the circus, became audience sing-a-longs, while the Tin Pan Alley of "Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?" showed the sisters piano prowess. Throughout the show, the sisters played multiple instruments including piano, accordion, kazoos, guitar and ukelele.
They even took questions from the audience, and finished one another's sentences to the point where they actually traded off every other word, as the audience enjoyed seeing two minds that are both independent but can still function as one.
The sisters closed their set with a somber ukelele cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," standing off to the side of the stage and singing without a microphone, but the silent crowd remained quiet enough for everyone to hear.
As an added bonus, and after a brief break, the crowd was also treated to solo sets by Amanda Palmer (of The Dresden Dolls) and Jason Webley. Maybe it was just me, or some side effect of a long tour, but you'd almost swear these amazing solo performers are starting to look like the Neville sisters, or vice versa, but that's neither here nor there.
Webley came out with a powerful set of solo material, although it was honestly hard to stop watching his hat as it bounced around every corner of his head, but never fell off. He played some tunes off of his CD "The Cost of Living," and then Palmer came out to join him for a song. After seeing Evelyn Evelyn, we were used to seeing duets, but Palmer and Webley really tore down the house with a Weill/Brechtian barn-burner that brought down the house (I don't know what the song was, sorry, heh).
Amanda Palmer then did a solo set that featured both Dresden Dolls songs as well as songs from her debut solo album, "Who Killed Amanda Palmer?", including a fun song called, appropriately enough, "Oasis," an upbeat song about growing up and having an abortion while tracking the status of a letter she sent to the British band Oasis.
She also played a ukelele cover of Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" and announced (for the first time publicly) that she is releasing a whole album of ukelele Radiohead covers this summer.
Palmer recently severed ties with her record label (see: putting out an entire album of Radiohead ukelele covers above for confirmation), and released a free song about Easy-Bake Ovens and blow jobs titled "Do You Swear to Tell The Truth The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth So Help Your Black Ass?" that you can download at http://www.amandapalmer.net/thetruth/
At the end, Webley rejoined Palmer on stage (hmm, that's a bad word choice) and encouraged the audience to sing along to a drinking song. The slightly sober Sunday night crowd couldn't find the right vibe, though, but then we all spun around until we were dizzy, sang our hearts out, and then departed into the night, each of us conjoined to some good vibes for the journey home.
You can find out when Evelyn Evelyn, Palmer, and Webley are coming to your town here: http://www.evelynevelyn.com/news.html