Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Donna Bummer - Challenging Stereotypes

Standing in the middle of the floor at the final celebratory show for the now-legendary Echo Country Outpost there was a sudden hush. From the back of the room, the twinkling sounds of toys as musical instruments and the quiet blare of a horn made their presence known in a dirge-like rhythm. A woman, diaphanous and ethereal, and a man dressed in a loin cloth and wearing angel wings, both encased in bubble-wrap walked in a slow procession through the audience toward the stage. Once settled in place they began their bizarre repertoire and totally enchanted the curious onlookers.

This band is a new-ish creation from the fertile and feverish brains of a member of the music groups Tommy Santee Klaws and Bloody Death Skull who goes by the name of Donna Bummer, and her musical partner, Andy Bummer. Her background in musical theatre shines through on this new project as there's as much play acting as serious musical endeavor going on. With dressing and staging that shifts with each new performance, this is real living theatre.

What sound, at first, like childlike nursery rhymes very quickly degenerate as you glean the subject matter, which is decidedly not childlike, with lyrics that express the innocent joy of a child learning its first swear words. Topics that range from voyeurism to safe sex to airline travel to racism and some -isms not appropriate for a family audience. I do occasionally resent that I have had to watch our culture become as child-proofed as the raging moralists have demanded for the past 40 years (most of my adult years), and I welcome some unadulterated, grown-up art.

Donna incorporates a high-pitched shriek into her usually soprano vocal range that finds a complete opposite in Andy's exaggerated basso profundo, not so much complimenting each other as demonstrating the polar opposites that the human voice can achieve. With Donna playing her symphonic toy keyboard and Andy on clarinet, it makes the brain race to try to put it all together in your head. Even the bubble-wrap made an appearance as a percussive embellishment. And the sing-song lullaby format of the music only points out the shocking inappropriateness of the lyric content.

In "Penis Envy" they sing about gender re-assignment with the innocent abandon of two kids playing doctor and free of the self-censorship that comes with the rigid norms of social acceptance. They find numerous ways to address the surgical necessities of such an 'operation' and euphemistically (and humorously) list them all, while maintaining the impression of a couple of robots singing about human biology they don't quite understand with slang sexual expressions that we all know and love. It reminded me of the robots played by Bernadette Peters and Andy Kaufman in that movie, Heartbeeps.

In "Twiddle Diddle Me", the topic can be as elementary as a pick up in a public restroom, or go deeper and become somewhat accusatory as in "Let's Have a Baby" which exploits a sort of blasphemous idea regarding the unconscious selfishness of raising a child in this troubled world.

Another song is a riff of The Beatles' "Why Don't We Do It In The Road" and Dr. Suess' "Green Eggs and Ham" called "Mash Up", with a non-stop run of rhymes like "We could do it in a boat, we could do it with a goat" that go on and on with infinite ingenuity. Or "Dear Mr. Cosby" that asks quarrelsome questions about the recent shocking revelations concerning an iconic celebrity.

Donna Bummer's desire to surprise seems to match their ability to shock and in an era when that ability to shock has become increasingly difficult. But the strange brew of theatrical excess, wildly inappropriate musings, and shockingly unadulterated language all wrapped up in the illusion of a child's song, is a successful and intoxicating blend. Hypnotically weird...and shocking.

My first exposure came when I jumped at the chance to have them play my Feed Your Head show at Lot 1 on June 13th. I didn't know what to expect and they didn't disappoint. I just stood there in mouth-gaping astonishment and the audience ate it up. One show was not enough so I had to attend the Echo Country Outpost show for a second dose to really believe what I had seen.

They have incorporated seven of their favorite songs to assemble their first EP called Last Glance, which gives one the chance to study the lyrics and appreciate the delicate, oddly orchestrated compositions with the keytar, musical saw and assorted toy accoutrements. It's unique, it's crazy, and it's creatively liberating. Their graphic image of an overturned ice cream cone melting on the ground with the cherry nearby seems entirely appropriate.

Donna Bummer's record release show is this Sunday, July 26th at The Virgil at 4519 Santa Monica Boulevard at 9 PM presented by All Scene Eye. Also on the bill are other equally envelope-pushing artists like Ghiant, Madame Headdress and Del ChampiĆ³n. Here is the event page