My friends and I are studiously on time for doors opening at the Powerstation. There’s a distinct feeling of lineage to the crowd: we’re well on the young end, in our mid-20s; many of our colleagues would have been our age, or older, when The Teaches of Peaches—the album on this eponymous anniversary tour—came out. As we head in, the crowd fills to encompass all the years in between, as well as a contingent younger than my friends and me. It’s exciting to see who would have been here twenty-three years ago, and everyone who’s been drawn in and collected since.
One of my friends has shown up in bright pink chaps with a bedazzled, feathered cowboy hat to match, and is worried they’ve somewhat overdone it. It’s very in keeping with the album artwork. I get the feeling Peaches would be for it. Before long, a pair have shown up with light-up vulva headpieces, and the chaps are almost tame, if anything.
I’m coming to the gig comparatively uninitiated. Prior to my pre-show listening prep, I knew ‘Operate’ from its place on the Mean Girls soundtrack, ‘Fuck the Pain Away’ from the genuinely tremendous Sex Education version (shout out to the kid on keys), and ‘Boys Wanna Be Her’, which I’d put on a character playlist when I was being particularly actory about a Shakespeare production in 2019. But I’ve been schooling myself, as it were, in the teaches of Peaches. I’m ready to let the experience wash over me.
“To watch Peaches perform is to come face to face with what people mean by a rockstar.”
Opening for Peaches is local music icon Theia, a perfect choice. I’m delighted to see her—I end up knowing most of the set, thanks to my chap-wearing friend’s inclusion of her songs on a go-to playlist when we lived together two years ago. Those classics, and the newer additions, are well-received: we’re dancing, singing along, shouting; between ‘Not Your Princess’, ‘Kitty Kat’, ‘Frat Boyz’, ‘CREEP’, and a preview of ‘Crucified By U’, it’s a set curated aptly for a Peaches crowd. Theia’s vocals are outstanding: smooth, agile, crisply captured—a credit to both Theia herself and the sound engineering at Powerstation. There’s nothing like live performance with the levels mixed just right.
When Peaches herself takes the stage, it’s with a self-aware sight gag: she comes out on a walking frame, her hot pink ensemble including a bra hiked high above her exposed (nude-pastied) breasts, a pair of cartoonishly thick glasses over her eyes. In true Peaches fashion, her shoes are breasts, too, and she has a vulva headpiece on. She produces her microphone from a small handbag, which she also twirls around her arm like a hoop. Then she takes to the Groovebox. And it all starts to crystallise.
I know this a loaded, genre-specific term, but if you’ll oblige me: to watch Peaches perform is to come face to face with what people mean by a rockstar. She’s totally self-possessed, invested, defiant, game. There’s nothing about her that hesitates. She knows what she’s giving you, and she’s going to give it. And it’s not intentionally abrasive: she treats us like we’re in on a joke together, like we’re partners in crime—but no element of it seems concerned with impressing anyone. And why should it be? Why would it need to be?
She owns the crowd. At one point, she very literally walks all over us, trusting she’ll be held up, singing all the while. She ventures out again, inside a phallic inflatable (very literally a ‘Dick in the Air’). She goads us into a fight with Christchurch and Wellington. She undergoes a series of transformations: into practical sneakers, shedding layers of underwear, putting on huge constructed jackets, a black THANK GOD FOR ABORTION leotard, wrapping herself in meters and meters of wefts of blonde hair (a la the Rapunzel stylings of the ‘Set It Off’ music video). And all as she’s running the Groovebox, or shredding on guitar, or belting out the kind of vocals that would remind you, in case her tongue-in-cheek approach ever put you wrong, that this is a seriously talented artist. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. They certainly aren’t here.
Peaches does all this alongside a tight-knit onstage posse: a pair of dancers, a guitarist and a drummer who each gets in on the bit throughout the show—they’re as go-for-broke as Peaches is, keeping the crowd amped up, donning an array of costumes (and, at times, removing them), dancing and playing with all the magnetism of the headliner. We’re presented an entire onstage world, in which each figure presented holds a key role. (In the days following the concert, I hear from Peaches attendees across the country that they ‘fell in love’ with the guitarist, Bláthin, in particular.)
The night comes to a close with a rousing encore rendition of ‘Fuck the Pain Away’, for which Theia returns with a triumphant chorus and a haka centre stage. The energy in the room, fizzing all night, hits its zenith. Then Peaches does perhaps the most Peaches thing of all. Citing the occasion of the anniversary, she talks about what it’s meant to get here: what the album meant then, what it means now, to her and to all of us; the fact she had to reprogram the Groovebox for the occasion, including its original glitches. And then she launches into a cover of Céline Dion’s ‘It’s All Coming Back to Me Now’.
It’s a seven-minute song, Peaches notes, when we start singing along and she cuts us off. It’s a seven-minute song, and she’s trying to make it twenty. The comic-virtuosic juxtaposition comes out again: she hits all Dion’s notes, multiple times, and earns applause with each; she swaps out Dion’s ‘touch’, ‘hold’, ‘kiss’, ‘whisper’, and all the rest, with a suite of more explicit acts. At one point, we all end up waving our hands above our heads along to no lyrics whatsoever: we’ve learnt our lesson from singing along. Peaches, realising this, bursts out laughing. We keep up the rhythmic waving in silence. ‘Yeah!’ Peaches decides. ‘Fuck music!’
At the end of a two-hour set, following an opening act, this final song is a brave choice to make. Especially on a Monday night. I certainly emerge from Powerstation, twenty-odd minutes after ‘Fuck the Pain Away’ (as promised), with a Céline Dion earworm rather than a Peaches one. But at the same time, I appreciate it: Peaches will treat you to all the classics, keep you dancing and keep you guessing. She’ll serve you up a concert you’ll never forget and run away with the last laugh, disrupting the very make-up of a concert—an anniversary tour, at that. She’ll do it on her terms. She’s iconic, she’s provocative, she’s uncompromising. She’ll show you a good time. And she’ll tell you when it’s over.
Think you’ve got the measure of her after twenty-odd years? Ha. Not quite, pal. Of course not. That’ll teach ya.
Featured image courtesy of Auckland Pride Festival.