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Taylor Mac is one of those wholly absorbing performers that makes you forget where you are by never allowing you to guess what might happen next. From the moment Mac appears from out behind the dark curtain you get the feeling you are being lured into an enchanted forest by a mythological creature. Mac struts across the stage in full glittering regalia on heels that seem like hooves, giving the impression of the Greek God Pan. As mythic creatures do, Mac points out humanities folly and hubris while beguiling and charming you in the process.
Talyor Mac, who goes by the pronoun "judy" (purposely lowercase and gender confounding), has been on a hot streak in the last four years receiving an Obie award in 2011, and a series of residencies, grants, critically acclaimed performances, caping that off with a $75,000 Albert Award this year. Taylor's latest body of work is a 24-hour marathon concert called, “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” As the title implies Mac performs American pop songs from 1776 through 2016. The concert will debut in full October 2016, the exact time and location is yet unknown.
Last Saturday a portion of "24 Decades" was performed at Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park. The selection sub-titled, "Ritual Sacrifice of what we are holding onto in the 20th Century" was, as Mac has described it, a queering of American history. There is a distinct element of Radical Faerie in Mac's performance, beyond the aesthetic there is a kind of campy paganism at play.
The set list opened with the 1982 hit "Gloria" by Laura Branigan, and then wove between songs by Irving Berlin, Sleater Kinney, and Stevie Wonder. Mac even adapted Ted Nugent's gay-bashing rock anthem, "Snakeskin Cowboy," into a homoerotic love ballad. At one point in the performance, Mac looked out over what appeared to be a bohemian, albeit a somewhat middle aged crowed speckled with children, and said, "I was going to sing 'Pussy Manifesto' (by queer-lesbian duo Bitch & Animal), but I think that's a little much for this crowd." If the queering of history was not clear to anyone before arriving, the point was driven home.
In a preamble before a song by Nina Simone, Taylor explained there are differences between black rights and gay rights. "But," Mac continued, "there are also similarities, they tell us to slow down. Slow down. Gays slow down, Blacks slow down, Women slow down." Mac's answer to that was a rendition of Simone's "Mississippi Goddam."
Mac's politics are rooted in equality through an acceptance of diversity, and we are talking a non-conforming kind diversity. In one participatory number Mac brought an older couple and two young boys on stage and had them address each other in the opposite gender to which they were born. You get the distinct sense judy derives pleasure in making a straight audience feel queer. And judging from the gayety exuding from the crowd on the way out of the park that night, they seemed to like it. There was a sprinkling of fairy dust in the air.
Taylor Mac will continue to present new material from "A 24-Decade History of Popular Music," starting tonight with a series of performances at the New York Armory August 6 – 9. More of judy's tour dates are available here.