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Into the Night

Nothing Standard About This Performance

New York's intriguing Fischerspooner comes to downtown L.A., but the real show was offstage.

March 05, 2001|BOOTH MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The L.A. debut of New York's art world sensation Fischerspooner had all the makings of a hot party: a hollowed-out downtown bank building turned party venue (soon to be Andre Balazs' second Standard Hotel), a guest list promising hipsters Donovan Leitch, Sofia Coppola and Courtney Love, and best of all, mystery.

The performance group's strange brew of electronica music, robotic dance, Technicolor makeup, 1980s hairstyles and skimpy threads has been hailed in underground mags such as Dutch and Index. Yet Fischerspooner is most often described as indescribable.

Of course, this makes the act all the more alluring.

"I hear it's a rock opera, kind of like my life," said the newly single Rose McGowan, one of the few celebs who actually materialized at the pre-show cocktail party Thursday night for about 200.

While the leather-clad were sipping Absolut and watching a DJ with a brown paper bag over his head, the Fischerspooner players plied their contrived lunacy backstage behind a makeshift divider. "It's 'Cats' meets Kraftwerk," explained Fischerspooner choreographer Jordana Toback, freshly made up with heavy black eye makeup and not one, but two sets of fake eyelashes.

Helping with costumes at shows, which ended Saturday, was Imitation of Christ fashion designer Matt Damhave, who had a miniature black glitter organ-grinder cap perched atop his head. Ripping the hem of a dancer's skirt, he said of Fischerspooner, "They are New York."

Fielding questions from a director's chair was Casey Spooner, 39, the goth-looking co-founder of the group, and its chief personality. Fischerspooner began two years ago in the East Village. "It's a lifestyle," he said of the shows. "No, actually it's controlled chaos. Nobody, including ourselves, knows what's going to happen." In two years, they've gone from performing in a Starbucks to nightclubs and the Museum of Modern Art, under the tutelage of New York's host of hip, art gallery owner Gavin Brown.

Spooner, dressed in black bikini briefs, anklet socks and a camel-colored fringed poncho, spun an enticing tale of the group's origins. "We've all either slept together, gone to school together, been in rehab together or something," he said of how he, Warren Fischer and the dozen or so dancers, singers and makeup artists came together.

Each of their shows is tailor-made for its location--costumes, sets, songs and all. In L.A., Spooner said ominously, the show "is about revenge. . . . It's a dream come true to be able to speak to the people who have ruined my life." Spooner tried to be a commercial actor before joining New York's downtown avant-garde scene. In a curious twist, this edgy phenom is now being bankrolled by Levi Strauss & Co. for a year. The group is even in the jeans maker's ads and has customized some pieces for sale.

"I'm hoping to franchise the show," said Kent William Albin, the group's bookish "chief information officer." Better yet, he hopes the sold-out L.A. performances land Fischerspooner a spot on TV.

By the time the performance finally began with the feathered and fringed group descending from a lifeless escalator onto the graffiti-covered scaffolding that was the set, expectations were high both onstage and off. Music pumped, dancers twirled and Spooner, looking most Marilyn Manson-like, stripped from a white hair suit to a rhinestone thong.

There was, of course, a gag. The audience was treated to the offstage banter typically exchanged in private between performers about costume changes, failed dance moves, and so on.

"This is just a dress rehearsal," Spooner said into a mike, "We can always change it later."

A scant 35 minutes had passed when the show was over. The crowd was shuffled out through a back exit to make room for the next performance. (There were four each night).

Outside, on the dingy downtown street, the audience seemed singularly unimpressed. As one dye job put it, "That was the best crowd for the lamest show I've ever seen."

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