I’ve had the luck of working closely with several artists and bands, even with some of the size of Iron Maiden, and I’ve talked and dealt with their fans. In all of this time, however, I had never seen the level of love, devotion and admiration that Emilie Autumn elicits from her fans.
Jerry Garcia, of the Grateful Dead, once said that his band was like licorice. “Not everyone likes licorice, but those who like it REALLY like it.” This is the case with Emilie. It’s more than being a fan, it’s a commitment.
Even though the doors of Tivoli opened at 18:30, fans were lining up well in advance. Some of them were eating (the smell of McDonalds and KFC food was very noticeable) others, both men and women, were re-touching their make up or fixing their hats, corsets and platform boots.
As the Tour Manager gathered those who were fortunate enough to join Emilie in the Meet & Greet session with the fans, you could clearly see the excitement. In their minds, they weren’t simply going to meet “a band” or “a singer”… they were going to meet a friend. Though for some people it might be hard to understand this extreme devotion (and, I must say, sometimes it is hard for me too) the truth is that Emilie simply has a way to connect with her followers. She has been able to channel some bad experiences from her life (such as abuse, mental disorders, suicidal ideations and forced commitment) into her music, allowing those who have gone through similar trials to feel that they’re not alone. In interviews she has mentioned that there have been fans who have shown her scars of self-mutilation, telling her that her music allowed them to stop doing that to themselves. It is always great to see that someone can have this positive effect on people.
The show promised to be special. It wasn’t going to be the usual concert, namely a selection of new and old songs, but a Broadway-like musical, loosely based in Emilie’s grim experiences in a mental institution. Even though many of the songs hadn’t been officially released yet, YouTube was already packed with footage of the new show, so the crowd didn’t only know the songs, but was actually able to sing along as well.
As the lights go out, the Bloody Crumplets take the stage making spastic movements as “Best Safety Lies in Fear” (a recital of parts of the Act one, Scene III, of Hamlet) plays in the background. Then, behind a canvas, Emilie’s silhouete appears. She’s wearing her famous rat mask, claws (rat claws, of course) and a tail (!). As soon as the well known beats of “4 O’Clock” start, the screaming commences; and by the time Emilie actually appears on stage, the screams are defeaning.
A speech (“Dr. Stockhill”) gives some clues as to the story behind the show. It’s “The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls” (also the title of Emilie’s book, and to which this musical is some sort of companion) a place reserved for women who seem to rebellious or who dare to go astray. With “Fight like a Girl”, the most powerful song of the night, a message is sent to the girls in the audience, that there’s no need to be subjected to abuses or oppression, that they have the necessary power in them to fight back.
“Time for Tea”, the following song, was performed flawlessly but, sadly, with a horrible audio setting. The bass was so high that everything vibrated, even making some of the hardcore fans do the unthinkable: Cover their ears. Although I was afraid that the following song would also have the potential of causing permanent ear damage, I was delighted to hear the first notes of “The Art of Suicide”, one of Emilie’s most well known songs and, in my opinion, one of her most personal ones (akin to what happens with Trent Reznor and “Hurt”). It’s performed in a really touching way, as the crowd sings along. Then, the lights go out and Emilie appears sitting on a wheelchair to sing “Take the Pill”, a song about medication used as a way to tame and control patients (as opposed to help or cure them) that ends with a struggle between Emilie and the Crumpets, pushing her back into her chair. Although the performance sets the bar high, “Liar“, another crowd favorite, brings the house down anyway.
The show continues between songs, tea and pastries. With “God Help Me” in the background, the Crumpets start throwing donuts, cookies and muffins to the crowd (most of them previously licked) as well as copious amount of tea (which I hope isn’t boiling). “Girls! Girls! Girls!“, a song about women being offered as sideshow products is, oddly enough, the song preceding the “Rat Game“, the opportunity for Emilie to rest, and for a one (or more) girls from the audience (“over 18 and who have never kissed a girl before”) to go on stage and kiss Veronica. I’m not sure if the irony of it all is noticed by anybody else.
The last three songs of the “Asylum” setlist wrap up the story in a touching manner. “We Want Them Young“ tells of doctors ruling over their (female) patients, who have little or no hope to be released; “Gaslight“ talks of the torture and humiliations suffered by the inmates. Finally, “One Foot in Front of the Other“ closes the Asylum with a hopeful note. How will the girls escape from the Asylum, how will their revolution start? Step by step, minute by minute, day by day. Every revolution starts with one step, it’s time for them take it.
The Encore, “Mad Girl” and “Thank God I’m Pretty” is, to say the least, wonderfully received by the crowd. Emilie doesn’t even need to sing during most of “Thank God I’m Pretty“, since it’s being sung by hundreds of fans in the audience.
Before leaving, Emilie gives a little speech. She reminds everyone that even though there’s no common denominator in the audience (some are old, some are young, some are in costumes, some are not, some are women, some are men) they’re still one. They’re friends, they’re family, they are soulmates.