The grand experiment of B. Dolan’s Church of Love and Ruin Tour
For a music fan with broad taste, planning out a weekend’s entertainment can be difficult. But every once in a while, a show comes along that removes any potential indecision by bringing together several genres you’re interested in — and a few you weren’t even aware of — and stacking them together on one bill. Such is the case with the Church of Love and Ruin Tour, which rolls into Boston tonight like an insane traveling circus of vaudeville, burlesque, hip-hop, marching bands, drag, and more.
The tour comes from the mind of Rhode Island’s B. Dolan, the slam poetry-influenced rapper who has released a series of genre-busting records on Strange Famous Records, a label run by like-minded Providence rapper and spoken-word icon Sage Francis. Dolan’s most recent, “Fallen House Sunken City,’’ is a gritty, bomb-throwing mix of paranoid breakbeats from Portland, Maine, producer Alias, and politically charged takedowns.
The progressive lyrical content is a mirror of Dolan’s other role as the cofounder of the knowmore.org, a website dedicated to promoting ethical consumer practices and raising awareness of corporatism run amok. It helps to explain the broad scope of the Love and Ruin tour, which also features Providence 16-piece marching band the What Cheer? Brigade, show hosts Jamie and Sissy DeWolf of the Oakland battle-rap, burlesque, and poetry revue Tourettes Without Regrets, New Orleans standouts DJ BeesKnees, and “sissy bounce’’ act Vockah Redu & the Cru, as well as Boston drag queen Ms. Nicholle Pride.
In other words, it’s not your typical hip-hop show — not that typical hip-hop is part of Dolan’s repertoire anyway.
“My crowd at this point is expecting weirdness,’’ he says. An average show might find him wearing an Evel Knievel costume under his clothes; halfway through the set he tears off the outer later and jumps a tiny bicycle off the stage. He might also perform in character as an aggressive right-wing clown called Bombzo who harangues the audience with offensive political diatribes.
“It’s always been my thing that the people that come to my shows appreciate that it’s not a normal hip-hop show,’’ he says. “I use people’s comfort in that environment as the canvas. ‘You’re at a hip-hop show when suddenly . . .’ ’’
After upping the anything-goes ante for years, he says, eventually you have to bring in a marching band and a drag queen.
The genre mash-up revue within the context of a hip-hop show is an idea Dolan got from seeing a performance of Tourettes Without Regrets while he was touring California in 2008. “Their hosting style is kind of uniquely suited to combining a whole bunch of genres and creating a very chaotic atmosphere where anything can happen and everything can be appreciated. I saw a format that I could take and kind of run with.’’
To help facilitate that chaos, the DeWolfs will work the crowd in between performances, with audience participation playing a crucial role. “They come out beforehand and explain that there will be no detached hipsters at this show,’’ Dolan says. “You’re not going to sit in back with your arms folded and make catty comments. It’s not that kind of show.’’
Instead, the audience might be asked to write down some of their worst romantic or sexual experiences, the best of which will be reenacted onstage by interpretative dancers. “They also play a game called pig-hearts baseball,’’ Dolan says. “Jamie draws a bull’s eye on his [expletive] and the crowd throws pig hearts at the target.’’ He’s particularly excited about a planned game of toilet paper dodgeball to be staged between the two sides of the audience as well.
The tour, which will also hit Providence, Pawtucket, and Portland next week, had its first run in New York City last night, so whether or not any of these disparate elements will actually work together remains to be seen. “It’s just going to start this week, which is interesting and horrifying,’’ Dolan says. “The only place the show has existed is in my mind.’’
A film crew will be following them for the duration for a future DVD. “I think it’s going to work really great. But either way if it’s an enormous success or a colossal failure, at least it will make for good footage.’’
The uniqueness of the line-up is even clearer when you consider the diversity of the performers involved. Even in the world of progressive hip-hop, performance art and traditionally queer artforms can still be something of an aberration.
“I really like that aspect of it,’’ Dolan says. “It’s something I wasn’t totally intentional about, but I definitely didn’t shy away from it either. In my music and in the music of Sage Francis who runs my record label, we’ve always talked about gay rights, and homophobia in hip-hop, but at the same time we are two white hetero men. The fan base is cool with it, but it’s like the next evolution of that challenge to our audience for me to be like ‘You’re cool with me the hetero white guy giving lip service, but are you cool with having gay performers in our space now in hip-hop?’ ’’
Dolan admits he’s met with some resistance and skepticism, but he’s undeterred. “I’m glad that I can go there, and I know performers who are talented enough to go there. I wouldn’t put queer performers or gay performers on with me if they were second-rate, and I wanted to make a statement. It happens that Vockah and Ms. Nicholle are two of my favorite performers, and I get to stand up as a hip-hop artist with gay performers and bring two communities into the same space. That’s what I want my shows to be. Let other hip-hop shows be the place where women and gays feel uncomfortable.’’
Luke O’Neil can be reached at email@example.com.