Taylor Mac Returns to the MCA Review – Capturing 3 Decades: 1956 – 1986

Taylor Mac walks to the microphone in impossibly high heels that somehow seem impossibly higher than the last time he graced the MCA stage to perform a selection of his 5 – 10 years-in-the-making oeuvre, “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music”.  


Taylor Mac opens with the bible's words "Turn, Turn, Turn", made into a song by Pete Seeger and later popularized by The Byrds in the 60's. Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago


Perched on these high heels, picture a prettier Jackie Kennedy in that Chanel-type suit with trademark pillbox hat burned into our collective memories as the uniform for a bloody Dallas car ride.  Taylor’s suit though is a brighter 60’s pink, and with an American flag blouse and backside.  Hair is vintage Raggedy Anne.  


And then there was the Animals popularized -- "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood". Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago


In lieu of a creepy dead fox stole, Taylor sports a string of Warhol-evoking soup cans, perhaps giving some of us with conflated 60’s memories the subliminal message to think “Marilyn”.


With his assistants, Taylor Mac admonishes us to write the Michigan Governor to tell him our thoughts re: Flint's water situation AND disenfranchising half of the (non-white ) citizens of the state. Write to [email protected] or @onetoughnerd


His lipstick, eye shadow and entire persona glitters and shimmers.


At that first moment you might be thinking that brilliant costume designer Machine Dazzle has stolen the show—even before the body-sized g-string in 70’s macrame knots appears on Taylor’s male—still ambiguously so—frame, or when he dons the 80’s disco globe hat. 


For those of us who frequented mid-70's/early 80's discos, Taylor Mac's disco ball light hat struck an immediate chord of recognition. Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago


We happily attended our first gay prom. Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago


(Note to MCA:   Yes, we loved the Bowie costumes in that retrospective, but we’d ADORE an exhibit of Taylor Mac’s costumes!) 


A costume so very sixties! Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago


One of the many spectacular Taylor Mac costumes, from an earlier performance. Photo: Ves Pitts


But then Taylor Mac starts singing with a voice that upstages his gear, and THAT is saying a lot.   


More, you begin to notice what you certainly know by the show’s conclusion—this is not just political performance art shtick—this is great music!   In both choice of music and in rendition, Taylor Mac seems to be lending us his ballad-tuned ears to hear lyrics anew—from Bob Dylan’s poetry to Nina Simone’s tell-it-like-it-is rant.  


Taylor Mac also had a lot of help from all the musicians and singers in the backup band, who each had stellar solo turns to show their stuff.  These included:

Matt Ray (Music Director/Piano/Backup Vocals); Danton Boller (bass); Bernice “Boom Boom” Brooks (drums); Viva De Concini (guitar); Chicagoan Jon Natchez (baritone sax, trumpet, flute, clarinet, banjo, ukulele); Stephanie Christian (backup vocals); and Thornetta Davis (backup vocals). 


Know that if you hate audience participation and dread that you might be called on stage this just ain’t your show.  A few years ago Taylor Mac seemed to be okay with limiting it to an unlucky few.  Apparently, that’s not so now.  Go to the show and know you are part of it. 


Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago


This audience participation starts with all the white heterosexuals identifying themselves, only to be moved to the aisles as simulated white flight to the ‘burbs.  That’s a tame beginning for wilder moments to follow, which it seems a spoiler to detail blow by blow.  Suffice it to say that we followed Taylor Mac on what today might be called a “holiday from a heteronormative narrative.”   


This writer thinks that Taylor Mac’s ability to work the audience bares the lie that famed social scientist Stanley Milgram had success getting students to give each other electroshocks had a lot to do with his white lab coat, as most claim.  If Milgram knew how to accessorize like Taylor Mac does, he surely would have gotten much further!


Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago


Do get over your hang ups though of being part of the performance.  You WILL be entertained from beginning to end.  You will live to tell the tale.  More, you will learn a lot and find a refreshing point of view, even though part of Taylor Mac’s shtick is to continually remind that someone who had serious things to say just wouldn’t look like him.  We beg to differ.


Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago


It’s hard not to compare this performance as somewhat less energetic than the prior one in the MCA just a few years ago, though that might not be fairly apples-to-apples.


Perhaps these are three of the most difficult decades for Taylor Mac to convey because so many in his audience WERE on those first buses in the 60’s and 70’s he speaks of and have the songs emblematic of those times engraved in their souls.  Speaking for fellow boomers in the crowd-- it was a time when “straight” meant something besides “a heteronormative narrative”, and in fact nobody except right-wing William Buckley would put such an academically born multi-syllabic neologism into a sentence.  We were “Society’s Child” in the “Summer in the City”, meeting in the back of the bus.  We both knew “Something is Happening Here” but also thought Marvin Gaye was dead-on when he asked “What’s Going On?”. 


Ah, but there you have it!  One night with Taylor Mac et al and you too will be thinking of what REALLY should go in a new more inclusive American Songbook.  


Taylor Mac, provides this photo as a courtesy, showing yet again to all those interested, that the secret to beauty is often lighting and makeup


Three hours seemed a bit too long.  Then again-- how do we sign up for a save-the-date card for the promised 24-hour marathon performance of all 24-decades’ songs?    










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