On Friday night, during the final track of the first NYC Fischerspooner show in eight years, there were more than 20 people on stage at Brooklyn Steel: a drummer and a multi-instrumentalist, each on their own risers; a quartet of lingerie-clad, dancing women; the vocalists Lizzy Yoder and Caroline Polachek, downstage left and right; at least two photographers (in thongs) along with a videographer documented the show from onstage; about a dozen chiseled hunks (and one drag queen) lined the back of the stage, almost naked.
In the center of all this oozing sexuality stood frontman Casey Spooner, leading the throbbing electro-pop of “Emerge,” their biggest single. He wore thigh-high black-leather boots and a black thong, pulling it down to reveal an even smaller red g-string. Behind him, half the beefcakes held protest signs echoing a theme: FASCISM IS A LGBTQ ISSUE, RACISM IS A LGBTQ ISSUE, MEDICARE IS A LGBTQ ISSUE, and so on. Spooner had invited the activist group Rise and Resist to hang politically charged banners throughout the venue, but he told me the management of Brooklyn Steel had limited the visibility of his protest.
“The only way that I could get any of the political banners in the show,” he said, when I reached him by phone Saturday afternoon, “was if I gave them to the dancers to hold on stage. Which, that’s shocking to hear, in New York City, in a music venue. They’re opposed to a political statement about a corrupt presidency?”
Only one banner was hung near the downstairs bar area, spelling out in block letters: DETHRONE TRUMP WHITE SUPREMACIST IN-CHIEF. Spooner said Brooklyn Steel was also concerned about on-stage nudity, the impending maleness too shocking a liability. “It really felt like last night I was dealing directly with, and shockingly in New York City, with conservatism and homophobia. You don’t believe it until it’s happening,” Spooner said.
You wouldn’t know it from how exuberant and overt the live show comes off these days, a techno-male-revue of an immense and personalized scale. On Fischerspooner’s upcoming, Michael Stipe-produced album, Sir, Spooner’s own voice is louder than ever. The music propels queerness to the forefront, dealing with sexuality as an explicitly political issue, while more personal than the band’s ever dared. It takes into account the tumult of the last few years of Spooner’s life: a breakup, a loss of home, family turmoil, financial and career struggles. You could almost swear you get a glimpse of Spooner himself, rather than the character he’s played on stage for nearly two decades.
“It’s getting kind of hard to know what’s the character and what’s me,” Spooner said. “It’s easier in a way if I just become the character. So instead of having a wig, I have the hair. And instead of gluing the mustache on, I just have the mustache on. And so now who is me and who is the character is blurry.”
Onstage, that blur becomes simply indistinguishable, as the hour-plus-long set was a celebration of self, a spectacle of queerness and personal identity. With his hair in a flowing ape-drape, and his body on full display, Spooner strutted about, never more comfortable with himself. Constant costume shifts (or rather the never-ending shedding of clothing) and simulated onstage coitus addressed the fluid boundaries of fantasy and reality. This was particularly evident when Spooner sang an entire song while basically worshipping at the altar of a Tom of Finland drawing come to life. It’s all wrapped up in a sense that external machinations (say, the civic limitations of an AEG-owned venue) directly threatens the survival of the individual.
“We need visibility and unity and a voice in these times where it’s becoming so conservative and homophobic and racist,” Spooner said.
Even if the electroclash Fischerspooner spearheaded at the turn of the century is coming back via the lamestream current, ala Taylor Swift, it’s been the baseline of the band’s club-friendly best since 1998. Recent single “Togetherness” (featuring Polachek) revisits those textures like they never went out of style, while borrowing a line from a Jeff Koons discussion Spooner saw for the chorus.
It’s that art-world thruline that’s put the band at a curious critical distance throughout the years. In Meet Me In The Bathroom, this year’s breakout text of New York City music at the turn of the 20th century, Fischerspooner came off as the cunning, blasé foil to the too-cool scene. Nowadays, Fischerspooner functions as a lifeline for not just Spooner but also the throngs who recognize him as an empowered role model. Visibility is a means of survival; you either speak up or you slip away. Spooner, despite his recent struggles, has managed to soldier on. We should all be so lucky to possess the confidence to embrace exactly who we are, even if it takes a fall from grace.