Francesca, Scott, and I saw Taylor Mac and Matt Ray in concert at Joe's Pub on June 27. 2022. Francesca had been with me every time I had seen Mac, I think we've seen judy three or four times (FYI Taylor Mac uses the personal pronoun "judy"). Scott had never seen judy before and was very excited.
Francesca and I first encountered Mac and Ray in 2016, when we saw a segment of *A 24-Decade History of American Popular Music.* We saw the segment that went from 1956 to 1986. I kinda wish I had bit the bullet and paid the $600 to see the full 24-hour concert. Every review I read said it was life-altering. Just the three-hour segment we saw was astonishing beyond words, really and truly one of the most transformative and thrilling evenings I've ever had in the theatre.
The piece we saw at Joe's Pub was a workshop production of a five-hour event Mac and Ray are writing to be performed next year, called *Bark of Millions.* Lyrics by Mac, music by Ray. Mac said this after the first song: "This is a workshop production and people don't like to pay for workshops but I can guarantee that what you've seen so far is already better than a lot of stuff you've paid a lot more for."
I'd never seen such a big ensemble at Joe's Pub. They didn't all fit on the stage, many of the singers had to sit along the stage and sing from there and shuffle onstage when they had something showy to do. The band was Ray on keyboards, a bass player, an electric guitar player, a drummer (Boom Boom, who Scott and I had just heard a few days before on that same stage, playing with Justin Vivian Bond), and someone else on a wide array of percussion. And how many singers, eleven or twelve?
Every previous Mac outing had featured other singers, many doing solos, but Mac was always the central performer. This show had Mac sitting out fairly often and other people having major solo moments. It gave a nice bit of variety and jeez, I'm sure Mac appreciates having a little time off.
The first song was "Bark of Millions," a reverent incantation with a prog rock flavor. Mac sang it with a beatific smile. Judy said we'd be hearing 32 of the 55 songs that were planned for the full show, three hours as opposed to five. Judy described the show as a celebration of queerness and the history of queers. Each song was a tribute to or inspired by a person in queer history. "We think of it as reverse conversion therapy. Everyone coming to this show will leave more queer than when they went in."
Here's a picture of the opening number. Mac is the one in the headdress made of dried flowers.
I don't know what the titles were and I can't guarantee I got every song but I'll list them by number.
1. "Bark of Millions," reverent incantation.
2. Funky as HELL. The bridge was launched with a thrilling key change. The songs often did something unexpected in the bridge - - a change to another tempo and/or key, that sort of thing. I often thought it had morphed into another song but then we got back to the original idea.
3. Dick Dale does calypso. Mac had a rap solo. It was during this song that Scott identified the fabrication of the bodice on Mac's dress: it was made out of doilies.
4. A dirty, gritty strut with the refrain, "Larry Kramer is bat sh-t crazy." This song had a raucous finish with a stellar solo by the gray-haired dyke on electric guitar.
5. Sounded like a Roberta Flack ballad. It was sung by a kickass Black woman who Mac said was their token non-queer performer. Hoorah for diversity!
6. An easy sort of ballad, sung by Mac. Sort of a sorbet.
7. A duet between a Black man in a black cocktail dress (who I identified later as the Lou Rawls for the New Millennium) and a redhead man in a breezy red mini. Francesca recognized the redhead from the cast of David Byrne's *American Utopia.*
8. A solo by an Al Green type, a Black man with a phenomenal voice. He was wearing a pink turban, a long braided wig, and a 70s polyester high/low dress. I called the song "Al Green Does a Queer Cha Cha." Scott told me the subject of the song was Bayard Rustin, one of the organizers of the March on Washington. You see the Al Green type in the forefront in this picture, Breezy Red Mini next, then Lou Rawls.
9. One of the best songs of the show, "Marsha P," a tribute to the great Marsha P. Johnson, who is often credited with throwing the first brick at Stonewall. Put THAT in your obit. The song was delicious, made me smile big time.
10. A chatty song with the refrain, "And the dead are coming back for you." The Al Green type did a dazzling gospel cadenza. The finish of the song: "Your shame brings us together and the stardust is a-coming."
11. A Crosby Stills Nash and Young knockoff. Wonderful vocal harmonies, natch. This is when I noticed there were eight or so singers, with mics, seated along the front of the stage. Ray did a lovely, tender piano solo at the end. The subject was Kate Bornstein, a pioneer in gender theory and gender studies. Many thanks to Scott for identifying so many of these queer historical icons. I know so little.
12. "Radical Faery." This song referenced both queer liberation trailblazer Harry Hay (founder of the Radical Faeries) and one of Mac's mentors, the Mother Flawless Sabrina. The song had an Elton John vibe, entirely appropriate.
13. A mellow, hypnotic ballad sung by Lou Rawls for the New Millennium. What a VOICE on that guy, holy cow. The bridge of the song built up and up and dropped into a new, more exciting tempo in which I was compelled to clap on 2 and 4. It was not voluntary.
14. Matt Ray sang and played this song, which had a country flavor. The subject was Stormé DeLarverie, a bouncer at a dyke bar in Greenwich Village. She was there the night the Stonewall Riots broke out.
15. A blues song sung by the Roberta Flack type. It referenced Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. Low down and dirty.
16. A quiet, folky ballad sung by someone who truly embodied androgyny and a non-binary presentation, in the look and the voice. Pretty song, sung in an intimate manner.
17. One of Mac's projects during the lockdown was learning Italian. Judy thought it would be fun to write a song in Italian so judy and Ray wrote this brindisi about something that happened in Fascist Italy. The Fascists rounded up the town gay in many little towns and sent them all to an island. At first, of course, they were outraged, but then they realized that life was really kinda great on the island. They made a community, they formed alliances, there was a fair amount of sex going on, it was liberating. Then they were sent back to their home communities and many of them were not so thrilled. The song was such a blast. We were encouraged to sing along, but it was tricky because it was in Italian. I did my best.
18. Back in the land of funk. The song was about Donald. I'm not sure which - - I hope it was Donald Duck.
19. A cheeky song about Margaret Cho. One of the lines: "I'm not straight, I'm not gay, I'm just slutty. And where's my parade." The bridge of this song was a Gilbert and Sullivan-style patter chorus.
Mac announced that the next segment would be the final one, the third act.
20. A pseudo Moorish song, a queer call to prayer. Solos by Al Green and Lou Rawls.
21. I didn't write anything apart from, "Didn't really do it for me."
22. Machine Dazzle, Mac's costume designer, did this song. Francesca and her mother Stephanie and I saw Dazzle do a concert at the Guggenheim a few years ago and it was BAD. Really lousy singing. Francesca took this opportunity to go home and relieve the sitter. I took the opportunity to go to the loo and relieve my bladder.
23. A swirly, waltzy song sung by Mac. It referenced Rocky Horror.
24. A ballad sung by Mac and a woman with a throaty voice and a strong Tina Turner vibe. At first Mac sang the higher part when they sang in harmonies and later they switched. It sounded a little like a Heart song. Be still my beating Heart.
25. The Al Green guy's song picked up where the previous song had left off and thanks to the opulent pianism and Joni-Mitchell-style key changes of Matt Ray, it went off into uncharted territory. One of the highlights of the evening, it was extreme. Scott thought this song was about Amelia Earhart.
26. "Eccentricity," a catchy little number. Like many songs in the show, it sounded like something you already knew. In a good way.
27. The Tina Turner type was in full Tuner mode. She tore up the stage with her singing and attitude. It was not prepared for the sheer LUNACY. Here she is in her knee-high silver boots. Mac is rockin' OUT.
28. Mac sang a Bowie-style power ballad. A good genre for judy.
29. The last song pre-encore started as a tired ballad and built into one of the most thrilling things ever. I really felt like I was being lifted out of my seat, it was something else. The final chorus was eight or twelve lines and the final line had an upward key change built in. Each key change was on the one hand expected and logical but on the other hand surprising and awe-inspiring. There's some sort of musical alchemy going on there, and I fully support it. It was trans-freaking-cendent.
Here's a picture of the finale. From left to right, on the stage: bass player, Matt Ray, electric guitar, Taylor Mac, Lou Rawls, Al Green, arm of Tina Turner. On the floor: Asian-American backup singer, Machine Dazzle.
30. The encore ballad was sung by Mac and Ray. It had the refrain, "Oh, and we loved in that queer little hole called the world." Mac started it by taking off the headdress, which I'm sure got rather hot after a while. The heels also came off. Judy is not so tall!
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See, I knew I didn't get every song! This was 30 out of 32. Not bad, I guess. Mac announced that those attending the full show will get a hymnal so they can sing along and sing the songs when they get home. I hope they make a recording!
Francesca, Scott, and I have vowed to go to it together when it happens. Let me know if I can get YOU a ticket.