Originally Published By The Pitch Thursday, August 5, 2004
©2005 New Times, Inc.
Pitch Best Live Show Nomination 2004
Vibralux knows how to put on a show. Sporting women's clothing and enough face paint to stock an Avon convention, the stylish Lawrence quartet often spends hours preparing to take the stage. (Bikini waxes are time-consuming, after all.) But when it wasn't terrifying the Fred Phelps set, the Lawrence quartet took time to issue Trans Mission, a full-length effort with such over-the-top glanthems as "Fashionista" and "Space Fags."
Originally published by The Pitch Oct 09, 2003
©2005 New Times, Inc.
Voted Pitch Weekly Best Drag Show
Four sullen dudes wearing jeans and T-shirts and playing rock music can be a real drag. Vibralux knows this. That's why the Lawrence quartet concocted a splashy and trashy live show that breathed fire onto the local scene. With its pancake makeup, platform boots, feather boas, black-mesh stockings and flame-throwing antics, the gender-bending 'Luxers are not your father's drag band. Vibralux's horror-picture rock show -- a cock-ring circus that's equal parts carnival, concert and transvestite ball -- continues to evolve, with new elements brought in regularly. The self-described "eroto-rockers" are smart enough to mix things up musically, juxtaposing classic cuts from the New York Dolls, David Bowie and T-Rex with its own raucous material. Anything But Joey sings about girl roommates, but only Vibralux could pull off a tune like "Transvestite Boyfriend" without batting an eyelash.
Originally Published By The Pitch Thursday, March 25, 2004
©2005 New Times, Inc. All rights reserved.
Lawrence's Vibralux uses a little glitter and a lot of rock to become queens of the new age.
By Robert Bishop
Cyndi Lauper was right, by god. Girls really do just wanna have fun. But what about the guys?
"We're sick and tired of people telling us not to have any fun," Mercury 2 declares from his perch onstage at the Bottleneck. "I want rock and roll! Now shout, 'Bitch!'"
The crowd obliges. Mercury very much appears to be having fun. He is seething wicked attitude beneath his pink wig. And since this is a special occasion -- the singer's band, Vibralux, is having a CD-release bash -- Mercury has come decked to the nines in a dress that any number of girls -- and likely a guy or two -- in the audience would die to look as good in.
The rest of the Lawrence quartet is similarly dolled up as they tear through trashy gems from the band's debut, Trans-Mission, a pretty-in-pink package of 17 glam-rock tributes and salutes to "Space Fags" and "Fashionista" queens. Thanks to fire codes, the band's trademark flamethrower phallus is sadly MIA, but bubble and fog machines ably stand in for Vibralux's usual burning sensation.
Even with subdued stage props, the fabulous foursome vamping at the Bottleneck seems light-years away from the moment when two kindred spirits sparked the idea to sprinkle themselves with a little Ziggy Stardust. Mercury, the man who would be a queen, was strumming his guitar on the street when the person fated to be rechristened Lexxxis (the band members declined to tell the Pitch their real names) stopped and asked if he could join in. He joined the band less than a week later.
Mercury had grown bored with indie rock and had started to envision a glamorous, knock-you-on-your-ass show telling the saga of a cross-dressing rock-and-roll alien. He explained this vision to Lexxxis, who, curiously, did not run for his life.
"I had to think about it for a day, because I already had this rock ego I wanted to maintain," Lexxxis says. "But this has turned out to be one of the most fun and exciting things I've ever said yes to. And I've said yes to a lot of stuff."
Synth bassist Atom Smashing was already on board, but when Vibralux's second drummer moved away (not before promising to stab anybody who stood in his way) before a scheduled show, a new recruit was needed immediately. Enter the future M.A. Sheen, who wasn't told about the makeup until after he agreed to fill in.
"It wasn't as draggy then. They tricked me into being a drag queen," M.A. Sheen says. "At first it was just theater makeup, more kabuki with white faces and big eyes. Then it moved into an androgynous thing, with full-on glitter."
The glam-rock look isn't as popular in Kansas as, say, overalls, which allows Vibralux to command attention with or without the flame-spewing cock.
The band's release party is a precursor to Neon, the Bottleneck's '80s dance party, and the audience's response is strong, even though some in the crowd clearly aren't expecting a guy in a pink wig to ask them, "Are you feeling pretty?" before boasting, "Not as fucking pretty as I feel now!"
A good portion of the crowd is, of course, gothed up to the hilt. Yet the band has no qualms about wielding its influence over any and all, including the initially dubious.
"We've had guys come up with an AC/DC shirt on and the mullet, with the Trans Am in the parking lot and maybe a NASCAR hat, and they're like, 'Dude, I don't know about how you're dressed, but you guys rock, and I'm never going to miss another show,'" Mercury says. "They get through about three shows, and they're just like, 'This is too gay for me,' and never come back."
Maybe understandably so. Pyrotechnics are unquestionably cool, but even when a venue will allow them, Vibralux's fireworks involve male genitalia of ego-shattering size. Glitter cannons and Barbie launchers are in the drawing-board stages, but Ken's ex still made an appearance at the Bottleneck, with Mercury hurling the "little bitches" into the crowd. It's compensation for earlier in the show, when the audience pelted Vibralux with cigarettes during "Chain Smoker."
Mercury is the ringleader of this lip-glossed circus, in control even when something goes awry. When his wig falls off, he nonchalantly picks it up, puts it back on and taunts, "Am I straight yet?"
But the sex, drag and rock and roll aren't just gimmicks.
"The rock and roll really has to come first," Mercury says. "The drag just goes with the rock and roll. We get so much flak from people saying, 'You're just in costume, blah blah blah.' They aren't really listening to what we're saying or what we're trying to do."
Of course this isn't the first time this sort of thing has been done. It just isn't done a whole lot around here.
"It can just be pushing the limits of conformity, where it doesn't matter what you do, but do it well or at least have fun doing it," Lexxxis says. "All of that diversity and accepting people of different cultures and different personalities."
Some people don't get it, though. The clientele at the International House of Pancakes, for example.
"Going there after a show can be a social ordeal," Lexxxis admits.
Then there's the person who yells "Fuck you" at Mercury between songs at the Trans-Mission release party.
"Oh, I'm just getting started," Mercury replies. "In a few minutes we'll be done, and you can fuck off with your little '80s dancing."
But Vibralux has one trick left. During the final moments of "Barbi Doll," while the converts in the crowd continue to chant "Bitch" as instructed, Mercury reveals his underlying mission.
"I can implant any subliminal message into your mind," he coos. "And you are hungry for rock and roll!"
Originally Published By The Pitch Thursday, March 25, 2004
©2005 New Times, Inc.
March 2003, Story by Matt Bechtold
© Copyright 2004 CJOnline.com / The Topeka Capital-Journal
Older Press Cover Story Rock Kansas.com
Resurrecting The Glitter Of Glam
> Gender-bending ideals, sexual overtones, flamboyant stage shows and fire-breathing have this act heating up the scene.
The world is abuzz with talk of the "return of rock." It's out with boy bands and pop divas, and in with the '70s garage rock sounds of The Vines, The Strokes, The White Stripes, et al. Perhaps the world is ready for something else from that bygone decade. One Lawrence band strongly suggests '70s British glam.
Vibralux, a four-piece with larger-than-life stage personas and over-the-top performances, is generating a lot of buzz in Lawrence. They dare to shock and sparkle in a town that has grown somewhat predictable in its sights and sounds.
Gender-bending ideals, sexual overtones, over-the-top costuming and stage shows -- if you're thinking David Bowie, T-Rex, New York Dolls, Lou Reed, you're on the right track.
"It's sexual noise," explained Atom Smashing, synth bass player for Vibralux.
Guitarist, Lexxxis added, "I think our sound sort of epitomizes the name as well. It's full of lush vibrations, that hopefully tickle the sensitive parts of your body."
"It also could mean 'vibrant light,'" explained front-girl and guitarist, Mercury. "Who knows what it means, really."
The only thing that's certain is what Vibralux is not.
"So please, do us all a favor, wear something fabulous for a change. Do something different. Be creative. Men can be creative. You have the power. Step out. Push the limits. Stop being a pansy. And by pansy, I don't mean gay. I mean a waste of space"
"Not '80s, not hair metal, not cock rock," Atom stated emphatically.
"It's a very easy mistake, probably, but '80s hair-rock is not glam rock," Mercury explained. "The reason being is that '80s style, clothing-wise and otherwise, is sort of copying a format from that ['70s glam] era. So where artists from the '80s were bringing on this whole make-up and hair and outfits idea ... although they were utilizing those ideas, those feminine ideas, their music and their message was mostly about f___ing chicks, and riding in jet planes and doing a lot of coke -- which we're not saying that our music is not about -- but it's not hair rock, it's glam rock. It's a completely different thing.
"The difference is that glam rock included ornamentation that set it apart, and had its roots in cabaret and somewhat in the whole drag ideal or gender-neutral lifestyle. So it challenges traditional gender roles, instead of using its musical format to simply attract members of the opposite sex. I think it definitely appeals to a wider variety of people, whereas hair rock or hair metal is very much a heterosexual thing, overall.
"We're borrowing influences from Lou Reed and David Bowie and T-Rex -- or Queen for that matter -- which were very flowery and sort of pushing the limits of gender ideas."
Those are some obvious influences, but who has influenced them in ways that might not be so readily apparent?
"I would like to throw in The Cure. We've had a couple songs that are very Cure-ish, and Robert Smith, he could be considered sort of a father of modern glam," said drummer M.A. Sheen.
"To a certain extent, yeah," Mercury agreed. "Especially in his gender-bending qualities and lack of appeal to an overtly heterosexual audience."
"Love and Rockets, definitely," Mercury said. "Oh yeah," chimed in Atom.
"I think Mercury and I would probably both have to cite the major guitar virtuosos," Lexxxis said. "Steve Vai, Satriani, Hendrix of course, Brian May from Queen, Jimmy Page."
"Then there's obviously Black Sabbath," Atom interjected.
Mercury II [vocals, guitar]
Lexxxis [lead guitar]
M.A. Sheen [drums]
"I think Sabbath influenced anyone who came after them," Mercury said.
"As a synth bass player, I'm highly influenced by a lot of electronic music, because synth bass hasn't really been used in rock 'n' roll. Particularly really growly, noisy jungle drum and bass kinds of music," Atom said. With the bass lines that I'm doing, Decoder and some of Diesel Boy's earlier stuff come to mind."
But what truly sets Vibralux apart from other bands that rely heavily upon shtick and gimmicks is that there's more to the show than just bullshit posturing. These are some talented musicians whose songs can honestly stand on their own without the spectacle. But hey, let's face it. Everyone loves a good show.
So does Vibralux worry at all about people missing the point? Will they appreciate the music too? Or just be bewildered by the Vibralux spectacle?
"We really don't care," Mercury said laughing. "We just want our audience to enjoy themselves, above all."
"We work on both issues, because some people want a show, some people want the music, some people want both -- but we just want everyone to have a good time," Atom confirmed.
"I think that generally music is a good thing, and all types of music can be appreciated," Mercury stated matter-of-factly. "But most people go to a bar to drink. It's sad to say, but most people in this scene go to a bar to drink and to hook-up and to talk with their friends -- and not to see a band ... It's hard to be convinced that they actually like the music that they're listening to a lot of times, because they're not getting down. They listen to two songs. People walk away. There's no show involved ... I mean, even bands who are doing really hot shows still have people just standing around during the entire set.
"When I go to a show and the singer is too pissed off to even look at the microphone, I mean, OK, they're giving you something anyway. They're giving you a show regardless of whether they want to or not. And what they're showing is that the music is more important than the audience is. And that's perfectly fine on a certain level, but really, I mean come on, people want to have a good time. They want to enjoy themselves, and they hear the best band ever when they show up. And they have high hopes of seeing something that's good when they go there. And to be snubbed for the drummer by the singer or by a guitar player is no fun to watch ... yeah, I really want to go and see the same thing I could see if I showed up in a band's garage," Mercury said.
"The outward expression of a band is important," Lexxxis added. "Otherwise just go buy a CD."
Vibralux clearly practice what they preach, oftentimes spending up to three hours just on make-up and costumes to prepare for their shows and get into characters, who can at times be somewhat challenging to spend a lot of time around.
"Once make-up starts, that's it. I'm getting in there, and all of the remarks, all of the bitchy things [start]," Mercury said. "I think it takes some pretty good constitution to put up with my shit. But it's for the good of the group. Once on stage, it's very in-your-face, very brash, and very overtly sexual ... but the way I go about things [in real life] is probably not what people would expect.
"I would say off-stage for maybe two hours, even into the after-party, we're method actors all the way. Once I'm home, entertaining guests, I'm more Hollis in certain respects, but still a bitch. But you know, Hollis is sort of a hopeless romantic and a prince of unrequited love and a folk singer who stands on the street without any money and plays his songs and begs ... and Mercury really just wants the stage to herself. She's a bitch. And she says what she thinks, and doesn't care what anyone else says about it. Mercury will show up on stage in underwear and blow fire and burn things and anything basically to push people off their rock, because people have been sitting there staring at the ground for way too long."
Compared to Mercury and her alter-ego, M.A. Sheen and Mike have the opposite switch between personalities, becoming an almost inhuman, cyborg drumming machine.
"I have a lot of fun on stage," Mike said. "I'm somewhere on the outside looking in."
It's clear that Vibralux has hopes of shaking up the local music scene and changing attitudes about what is acceptable or taboo -- especially in the area of self-expression.
"I can put a CD on at my apartment, and invite a bunch of people from the show to my house and get drunk and dance in the living room -- because no one will dance at the bar," Mercury stated emphatically. "It's like there's no dancing allowed. No dancing allowed at all during the show. No. If you're dancing, f___ you. Why? Why can't people dance? Why can't people have a good time in this scene? People should be raising their fists, and feeling the music .... I just see a lot of gray area. I don't wanna feel gray," Mercury said.
If any band on the scene can put on a show that loosens up the crowd, it might just be Vibralux. If the music doesn't grab you by your more sensitive appendages, the fire-breathing act doesn't raise your pulse even a little, the gender-bending drag attire doesn't give you positive or negative reactions, and the overall level of fun in the act doesn't make you smile, then you have the calmness of a Zen master, or you're a corpse.
Unfortunately, not everyone is open-minded enough to enjoy a group like Vibralux. Some people are threatened by alternative lifestyles and challenged by individuality. In fact, even in Lawrence, KS, crimes have happened and people have been hurt.
The '60s and the '70s had a very tight arts community, both musically and visually. People knew each other, and the community subsisted or existed because they were dependent upon each other for things. But now, corporations own that community. They own all of it. And they seriously want their songwriters to stay in jobs. And jobs aren't bad. There's nothing wrong with that. If you write songs and you're good at it, then you should have that job .... but on the other hand, the community of artists at least in this area of the Midwest is so segregated.
On Jan. 25, an anti-hate themed show and benefit took place at The Bottleneck in Lawrence to raise awareness and help pay the medical bills of 28-year-old Jeffery Medis, who was assaulted without provocation in downtown Lawrence on Dec. 6, 2002. Though the police investigation claimed no evidence of a hate crime, Medis' openly homosexual orientation was believed by many to be the cause of the assault. Medis' medical bills, which have topped $10,000, are still coming in.
The members of Vibralux, who played that January Anti-Hate show, have had their own experiences with intolerance.
"Hatred and discrimination in any way, shape or form, when it comes to people's money and them choosing to live their own lifestyle will not be tolerated. That's pretty much it. This world belongs to us, and by 'us' I mean everyone. And no pansy-ass group is going to keep us from owning our lives. It won't be tolerated," Mercury said.
"As long as you're not hurting anybody, you don't deserve to be hurt. I think that's common sense though, right?" Atom said. "It's a universal concept. Even in a place like Lawrence, Kan., which is supposed to be a wonderfully open-minded, beautiful college town -- which it is, for the most part -- people are still dumb-asses wherever you go.
"There are at least some people who are going to be, overall, evil towards other people. It's ignorance. It's the culture that says that if you're not these certain things, then you're a bad person. And nobody can be everything that the culture says is a good person, and so people make up for their insecurities, thinking that they're not good people, by going and beating people that they think are lesser people by those same cultural standards, which are messed up in the first place," Atom said. "I've been a victim of this myself."
"My upbringing always taught me to keep my nose on my own business, and take care of myself and do what makes me happy," Lexxxis said. "And if people can't do that ..."
"Don't tread on me. it's a very American ideal," Atom said, completing the thought.
"Can I just say something for the record? We have gone through a sexual revolution! Hello! Wake up!" Mercury exclaimed. "Where the f___ are we now? Guys are still wearing ball caps, t-shirts and jeans as dress attire to the f___ing Velvet Room, okay? Get a clue. Your girls spend way much more time on themselves, and you like them for it. So please, do us all a favor, wear something fabulous for a change. Do something different. Be creative. Men can be creative. You have the power. Step out. Push the limits. Stop being a pansy. And by pansy, I don't mean gay. I mean a waste of space," Mercury said.
But improvements in fashion sense and self-expression aren't the limits of Vibralux idealism. They've got much bolder ideas of what their utopia would be entail.
"The '60s and the '70s had a very tight arts community, both musically and visually," Mercury said. "People knew each other, and the community subsisted or existed because they were dependent upon each other for things. But now, corporations own that community. They own all of it. And they seriously want their songwriters to stay in jobs. And jobs aren't bad. There's nothing wrong with that. If you write songs and you're good at it, then you should have that job .... but on the other hand, the community of artists at least in this area of the Midwest is so segregated.
"Andy Warhol, Lou Reed and Alan Ginsberg -- those people knew each other. They were at the same venues together ... they met each other at parties or gatherings. They were a team, and for a brief moment, they owned the world. As far as a vision outside the band, I think that would be nice to happen again. I think that if corporations could gather that, that's important to people, and they could sell that idea ... just in general, the world as a whole would be a much more fun place to live in -- instead of selling the segregation of souls.
"I would like to see a community of people together. Artists and poets, drag queens, drag kings, lesbians, gays straights, rockers ... whatever you want to call [yourself]. Honestly it's all bullshit in the face of art. We should just be together for that purpose."
Although hard to find, the band has two demo recordings in circulation. The second of the two, Plastic Bitches Vol. II, is available on CD for $1 pluh shipping and handling through the Web site, or for free if downloaded in mp3 format. It features originals like "Satan's Mouseketeers," "Barbie Doll," and "Chain Smoker."
Vibralux is recording their first full-length album entitled Rock 'n' Roll Alien. According to the band, it is expected for release on May 1 and will feature 20 original tracks.
In the end, it was M.A. Sheen who managed to sum up the Vibralux experience quite nicely:
"I think it's about getting people who have had their eyes closed for a while to maybe open them while they're at a show and go, 'Holy shit, these guys may be wearing panties, but they do rock.'"