Wrote a preview squib for the Hartford Courant website about the Nov. 24 Quintron & Miss Pussycat show at Cafe Nine. But there’s much more that can be added, thanks to a lovely phone chat I had with Miss Pussycat a couple weeks back.
One of the prevailing theories guiding New Haven Theater Jerk is that the doomsayers who proclaim that the American theater is dead (or dying) are full of shit. Theater continually morphs into other media and other venues, where its live dynamisms and scripted subtleties are just as profound as they have ever been on the trad legit stage.
Quintron and Miss Pussycat are a case in point. He’s a musician, she’s a puppeteer. He’s a conceptual artist who has invented some of his own instruments including the Drum Buddy and the Weather Warlock. They’ve been collaborating regularly for two decades now. They complement each other beautifully. “There are definitely songs that are my songs,” she says. “Others are completely Quintron. He is completely the President of Music. I am the President of Puppets.”
Added theater incentive for the Nov. 24 Cafe Nine: one of the opening acts is the kitschy dance-pop/glam outfit The Simple Pleasure, whose leader Chad Raines did a turn as Hedwig and the Angry Inch and live-soundtracked a production of Brecht’s Baal during his Yale School of Drama student days.
I first heard about Quintron and Miss Pussycat from Fernando Pinto at his old punk club The Tune Inn on Center Street in New Haven. This was the late ‘90s, when the only place to find underground clubs was to browse underground record stores, go to random shows at underground clubs and read fanzines indiscriminately until something clicked. I told Fernando I needed to hear something different, and—perhaps cognizant of my theater leanings—he immediately uttered the cryptic word Quintron. He answered so quickly and confidently that it was as if I’d asked him a simple math problem with a clear, concrete answer.
I purchased two Quintron CDs from the Tune Inn record shop at once, put them on as soon as I hit home, and… didn’t get it. I understood there were specific rules and concepts in play here, thematic boundaries. I understood that there was a visual element to the shows that couldn’t come across on the recorded music, but hey, that was true of Captured! by Robots and just about every death-metal or horrorcore band, and I could enjoy those sounds stripped from their images.
It was a while before I could catch a Quintron live show and realized how something that sounded throbbing and doom-laden on disk was in fact goofy and childlike when done in person. The earlier albums seem darker and more electronic. Later recordings add energy and feelings and handclaps.
It seems absurd, if you go online now and see Quintron videos—the hour-long parody infomercial he did for his light-activated “Drum Buddy” machine, or the many puppet-filled videos he’s done with Miss Pussycat—to apply any morbid or morose terms to his music.
There’s a formality to what Quintron does. He wears a black bowtie in concert, even if he often forgets to wear a shirt under it. He plays instruments of his own invention—not just aesthetically but engineeringly and electronically. Likewise, Miss Pussycat follows certain conventions of her chosen art form. When she sings back-up, she shakes a maraca and does a little dance. When she manipulates her hand puppets, she does so from behind a traditional boxy Punch-and-Judy-type stage.
I opened my conversation with Miss Pussycat by telling her how I owned several Quintron albums before I saw any of the live shows, and found the music, well, …. She picked up on my point: “I know. It sounds so fucking dark! Then you discover how silly it is!” She tends to work independently of Quintron, devising her own pieces then matching them to his compositions. Still, there’s not much improvisation. For the couple’s videos, “We write everything before we shoot it.” She’s not deliberately “lightening” the shows, she avers. It’s just that, “me, as an artist, I like colors and puppets.” Really, could Basil Twist put it better?
“Quintron’s not really a dark person at all,” Miss Pussycat confides. “If you saw what we do in New Orleans [where they’ve lived and worked for decades], in the context of the way we live, it’s party music.”
Another useful tidbit: “Quintron was also a puppeteer, in Chicago. He was Quintron already. We just fit together. We’ve been performing together almost 20 years. I was in New Orleans, doing shows at Pussycat Caverns. That’s how we met.”
Miss Pussycat began pursuing puppetry in a Christian Puppet Youth Ministry ensemble in the South. “I grew up in Antlers, Oklahoma. I have never been in a single play, ever. I always loved cartoons.” She’s a genuine arts activist. “I like museums. I want things to be accessible. I would do a puppet show anywhere.”
Quintron and Miss Pussycate play rock clubs and bars, because where else? But they also travel in other arts circles. Both work separately when not touring or recording as Quintron and Miss Pussycat. Quintron is in the Gary Wrong Band and controls the website Weather for the Blind, which livestreams music created by the weather-activated synthesizer Weather Warlock. Miss Pussycat recently completed a residency at the Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans and has been developing a new outdoor inflatable puppet theater. Together, Quintron and Miss Pussycat were awarded a fellowship at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in Florida, a retreat-type situation where they were able to develop some of these new works.
“I do art shows that are still a kind of puppetry,” she explains. “I really love making puppet movies and videos.” The video for “Do the Raid,” the first single from the new Quintron and Miss Pussycat album Spellcaster II, is an intense large-cast puppetry spectacle, and premiered on the website of Entertainment Weekly magazine.
Whatever the venue, the duo provides a genuine live theater fix for those tuned in to their wavelength. It’s a vibe that you can follow back to Jarry and Artaud and the Futurists and other multi-media visionaries.
Miss Pussycat is pleased to be playing Cafe Nine again. She and Quintron have been coming to New Haven since the early 1990s, playing the same Tune Inn club where Fernando Pinto had hipped me to their earliest albums. Monday’s Cafe Nine hadn’t been on their initial schedule for this tour, until the club’s owner Paul Mayer called them and encouraged them to nail down a New Haven date. Quintron and Miss Pussycat tour two to three months a year, and just returned from a tour of Europe.
“Last tour, I brought ten puppets,” Miss Pussycat recalls. “Cafe Nine has a smaller stage than a lot of places we play. We just did this enormous stage in New Orleans, and we just did the Kennedy Center. But as far as I can, I push it.
“It’s always nice to have a lot of puppets lying around.”