Big Freedia | 11.13.15

live big-freediaWhen Big Freedia shines on stage—literally, with the flash of her sequined, silver sparkly nails—she lights up the entire venue with her enthusiasm and energy.




The Pageant, St. Louis

For anyone who’s seen Big Freedia live, it’s not a crime to develop appropriately big expectations. Showmanship isn’t something that grows on trees these days, and tastes and aptitudes for what it constitutes vary. If there’s one thing Big Freedia does masterfully, it’s highlighting the difference between someone who knows how to throw a party and keep it jumping, and someone who enjoys those parties, but strictly as an attendee. Let me break it down for you: Close your eyes and clear your mind; we’re going to travel in time and space to last week.

“AZZ EVERYWHERE! AZZ EVERYWHERE!” The refrain of the Big Freedia hit of the same name rang out as near two dozen concertgoers vied for the Queen Diva’s attention during the amateur portion of the show. “Asses out! I don’t want to see faces.” Women and men, boys and girls wiggled and bounced their hearts out as Big Freedia scrutinized, evaluated, and narrowed it down to her final six selections: two male, four female. The crowd screamed as she pointed out each dancer’s particular gift for booty-popping.

Really, the crowd went wild from the moment the Queen took the stage and didn’t stop ’til the last beat broke. “Fuck the curfew!” she defiantly yelled (more for effect; the show didn’t actually exceed the allotted time but by a few minutes) before playing the last couple tunes of the night. One errant audience member in a track suit squirmed onto the stage, sadly interrupting the girls’ final dance-off. All told, Big Freedia effectively whipped the crowd into a bouncing, glowing frenzy in just over an hour; we loved her and she loved us back. As I said before, Big Freedia knows how to throw a party. Close your eyes again: We need to go further back, to contrast this with the other masters of ceremonies during the festivities.

The night got off to a rocky start with the miscalculated choice of Black James as opener. While her industrial-goth techno beats might suggest an overlap with Big Freedia’s relentlessly pounding bounce, the breathy, Grimes-like, shoegazey “Cranes” mumbling seemed to puzzle the crowd. “I’m Black James,” she repeated into the mic, which set my neighbors into a fit of giggles. “Rick James? She’s Rick James, bitch!” Further alienating the audience, about two songs into the set, Black James informed us, “I brought some friends with me tonight.” A parade of about eight dizzy club kids stumbled onto the stage with glowsticks, an American flag, stocking caps, and sunglasses. It was embarrassing, if not insulting, as one or two dancers gave their interpretation of “twerking,” aka bending over on all fours and/or humping the speakers. While this unfortunate scene suggested a gross underestimation of the talent and skill that serious twerking and popping demands, it also served as a great anticipation-builder for the professionals to come.

The night’s second act, Boyfriend, brought all the drama, theater, skilled dancers, audacious lyrics, and audience engagement required of a solid Big Freedia opener. With a backdrop of trifold dressing screens, floor lamps, parlor chairs, and potted plants, Boyfriend livened up the stage and drew the crowd down to the dance floor where they wanted to be. Her burlesque elements carried all the hallmarks of social disruption that make this art form truly great, challenging social norms of gender and sexuality. Stripped down to her high-waisted panties and bra and giant-frame glasses, hair in giant juice-can rollers, Boyfriend brazenly spat smart, raunchy rap lyrics covering everything from the joys of performing oral sex to the birth control benefits of intercourse during menstruation. She even managed a ménage à trois number featuring St. Louis’s own fabulous Foxy la Feelion and Tanis Lee. Boyfriend made sure the crowd understood her as smart, sexy, large (in intellect; diminutive in size), and in charge.

By the time Boyfriend made her dramatic exit, the crowd was flowing steadily to floor, greeting the Queen of Bounce and her crew with ecstatic cheers and “I love you, Big Freedia!” cries. Big Freedia’s music, and especially her live show, center on a celebration of self-expression. Her presence, confidence, and call-and-response musical style command the stage—literally, as she directs the dancers. She commands the audience to play their part, too, turning the microphone out to the crowd with the cue: “Excuse!” to which we all scream in unison: “I don’t mean to be rude! Just gimme that mic and let me do what I do!”

The set kicked off with some new tracks, including the compelling “Explode” commanding you to “Release your wiggle! Release your shake!” and “Lift Dat Leg Up,” which saw the male dancers in a shaking and jerking frenzy. Other favorite sing-a-long songs included “I Got That Gin in My System” and a later cover of Drake’s “Hotline Bling.”

When Big Freedia shines on stage—again, literally, with the occasional flip of her long, silky hair and flash of her sequined, silver sparkly nails—she lights up the entire venue with her enthusiasm and energy. The crowd responds in kind, embracing partners, arms around the shoulders of friends, smiles, wiggles and bounces, and radiant positivity. Commanding the house lights on and taking a look at the packed dance floor, the standing seated area, spread all the way around the bar space, Big Freedia explained that you never know what your promoter has in store for you. And you never know what kind of reception to anticipate from the crowd. With only two shows remaining on the tour before the return to New Orleans, Big Freedia thanked the crowd for the warm send-off: “You all have fucking blown me away.” | Courtney Dowdall

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