"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!"