CULTURE

An unconventional musical artist

Just a few months after her extraordinary, first-ever appearance in Greece last May, Baby Dee – a performer who compels with both music and an androgynous mystique – returns for two concerts in Athens this week. A classically trained harpist who is equally fluent on the piano and accordion, Baby Dee, whose vocal delivery has androgynous qualities, will perform tomorrow and Thursday at the Diavlos Music House. A sense of mystery surrounds this transgender performer, most of it stemming from Baby Dee’s unclear sexual identity. At times seeming like a woman, and at times like a man, this bulky, cigar-smoking figure with the ladylike hairdo has found personal harmony through musical expression and performance. On her previous visit to Athens as a solo performer – at the same imposing establishment where she will be performing this week – Baby Dee took the couple of hundred or so concertgoers through a set of inspired, cathartic, immaculately executed and melodic «dirges,» as she often calls her numbers, mostly on grand piano and vocals. Deeply immersed in her work, she emerged as a true original who explored the depths of her material on stage. Though on public display, Baby Dee’s stage ordeal seemed highly personal. While rendering her work, she gave the impression that it was just her fighting against – or coming to terms with – personal demons. But this inner battle gave birth to musical beauty that was powerful enough to reach out and make an impact on the outer world. As ostentatious as she may have appeared in her oddball stage attire, Baby Dee actually came across as a shy and clumsy individual between songs, but with sufficient wit and humor to get her through those moments of awkward silence. With the first note of her next song delivered, she seemed to have already begun to lose herself in some faraway world. And there was no melodrama. It was a take-it-or-leave-it performance, humble yet powerful. Baby Dee’s finely crafted material, performed in a burlesque fashion, echoed the likes of acts such as Tom Waits, Kurt Weill, John Cale, and even Edith Piaf. But, ultimately, it was her own. Just weeks after her first solo show in Athens last May, Baby Dee was back to perform as a member of Current 93, an enduring dark-wave collective with a widespread cult following. But it is through the solo shows that Baby Dee’s musical worth can be truly appreciated. These qualities have led to a considerable number of collaborations. Besides her work with the Current 93 collective – anchorman David Tibet discovered and added Baby Dee to the lineup after discovering what he felt was a uniquely fragile, melodic, and authentically underground artist – Baby Dee was a founding member of the now highly popular Antony and the Johnsons. Now over 50 years old, the Cleveland-born artist has put out just a handful of solo recordings. The first of these, «Little Window,» was released in 2000. Even so, her artistic past is rich, diverse and unconventional. Baby Dee spent a decade as music director and organist for a Catholic church in the Bronx, New York City, before joining a Coney Island circus troupe as a bilateral hermaphrodite. Work with a performance art group and a European tour with an act called the Kamikaze Freak Show followed. Once back in New York City, Baby Dee became a fixture in Lower Manhattan with a street act on a high-rise tricycle, concert harp and accordion. Both evenings of this latest Athens visit by Baby Dee will feature Italian avant-garde musician Fabrizio Mondonese Palumbo, as well as Athens-based artist the Boy as the opening acts. Palumbo, a member of Larsen, an internationally acclaimed experimental act, has also put out work as (r), the output here combining introspection, ambience and noise with melody. His activity includes music for soundtracks, advertisements, short films, and plays. Local act the Boy is currently preparing his debut album. To get tickets for Baby Dee’s show, which will be held at the Diavlos Music House at 9 Drakou in Koukaki, call 210.924.5644. Tickets cost 15 euros and doors open at 9.30 p.m.