Sexy M.F.

Jess Barbagallo on Bridget Everett & The Tender Moments

Bridget Everett performing at Joe's Pub, 2018. Photo: Kevin Yatarola.

THE NIGHT I CAUGHT BRIDGET EVERETT performing at Joe’s Pub with her band The Tender Moments, the lip of the stage—where brave souls can opt to sit under the tacit agreement that they might not return home with their dignity—looked like a scene lifted directly from a middlebrow empowerment comedy. There sat an array of average-looking 9-to-5ish types straight out of central casting—employees of life, as my friend the artist Becca Blackwell might say. Panning out further, I saw summer-casual wearing homosexuals and attendant gal pals all cheerily doing their part to exceed the two-drink minimum. Waiting for the show to begin after the curtain’s obligatory ten minute hold, a woman at the table adjacent to mine attempted to explain the Bridget Everett Experience to her companion, and I dutifully scrawled my eavesdroppings on the back of a crumpled pay stub intended for a debt collector. (My review of wage garnishment to follow another day).


boobs in the face

it’s a whole thing

The synopsis was reductive, but enthusiastic: no small feat at 9:30 on a Monday night. Everett has been a part of my New York consciousness for over a decade, ever since I saw her portray a lovelorn Lynn Cheney pining over Saddam Hussein in Taylor Mac’s Red Tide Blooming in 2006 at the old PS122—the same year she started performing at Joe’s Pub. In 2010, Everett began gigging there with The Tender Moments, and her star has only continued to rise with her appearances in film and television, and as a touring partner for comedienne Amy Schumer. It was one of the great cultural travesties of 2017 (buried in the travesty that was 2017) that Everett’s Amazon pilot Love You More, wasn’t renewed for more episodes. It featured the NC17-rated chanteuse as a counselor at a home for people with Down syndrome. I watched the premiere three times with different friend clusters, thrilled that Everett, so often a sidekick in her commercial work, had finally been bumped front and center where she belongs, proving herself to be not just be a sensational solo artist, but a sensitive scene partner of depth, dimensionality and extraordinary listening skills. Those gifts are exactly what’s fueled the live work for years, although they are sometimes obscured by the sheer audacity of her embodied pro-sex feminism.

The Tender Moments—Mike Jackson, Matt Ray, Carmine Covelli, and Danton Boller—slick and anonymous in black suits, took the stage as Miley Cyrus’s 2009 prom-meets-treadmill classic “The Climb” faded out before it had a chance to fade in. Covelli abruptly hit the drums, and leaned into his mic:

Ladies and gentlemen, hide the goddamn Chardonnay … Here she comes, it’s Bridget Everett!

Bridget Everett performing at Joe's Pub, 2018. Photo: Marc Goldberg.

Clutching a brown paper bag which concealed an already-opened bottle, Everett stormed the stage belting an original rock anthem “Come With Me,” one of her brand new songs for this latest stint at the Pub. Somewhere during the number—the volume was so deafening I couldn’t always make heads or tails of the actual words—she let her fans know that she hoped she could keep her “100% all-American prime pussy … in her cage.” That was certainly going to be a touch-and-go project at best, judging by the blue something-or-other draped across her frame, which looked more like a bachelorette party gift sachet than a dress. Before putting down my pen and surrendering to the nearly two-hour long bacchanal, I counted four different ensembles (courtesy of Larry Krone/House of Larréon). True to form, Everett executed each costume change in plain sight, fully narrating it in all its awkward glory—because what’s the point of a costume that leaves no room for a reveal? Even that brown paper bag was a trick cloak waiting to be shed: Underneath, the sweating Chardonnay wore a life jacket.

At one point, as Everett loosed herself from a light zebra-print overcoat, I was reminded of writer and director Thomas F. DeFrantz’s notion of the queer-made: objects or dances which tend not to be “naturally-occurring,” but are instead the labored amplification of non-normativity, arriving “after extensive jostling and cajoling.” Everett—raised in Kansan dysfunction, forged by the joyful anti-glamour of the “regional cabaret scene”—essentially jostles and cajoles the Every Bar genre with subversive, impish virtuosity, wrest(l)ing it away from a script of numbing cliché and into hyper-presence. Translation: it’s like you’re sitting at your local dive, hoping to hear a few songs, have a few feels, and go home with your melancholy intact, but instead you somehow find yourself on a girl’s night out with Everett. Gender be damned (!), all of a sudden your overpriced post-work drink has purpose, and you’ve become witness and wingman to a force of nature who doesn’t even bother to pull up a chair—she just hoists herself onto the bar and secures a proverbial round for the room with a flash of her tits and a Cheshire smile.

Conquest was her first order of business. After the opening number, Everett zeroed in on a sweet bro sitting in the aforementioned splash zone (aka: the front row). Mike appeared to be on a date with his sister (how adorable is that?), and with a wink, Everett let us know that he had made her night’s To Do list. He was cute, decent, and stubbled. Or, as Bridget summed him up after a quick once over of his lap: “Khakis? Who knew?” And with that she planted a seed of rom-com anticipation in all of us: Will Bridget get the guy? To be clear, nobody was after wedding bells. But consensual intimacy with a kind stranger? We could all get onboard with that.

Bridget Everett performing at Joe's Pub, 2018. Photo: Kevin Yatarola.

The seduction of Mike was just one of the plots Everett hatched as her set bounced—“bounce, bounce, bounce” being the literal refrain of her cult hit “Titties” —from puberty, to her dog Poppy (“a nine-year old Pomeranian former sex worker from Nashville”), to an encounter with a foot fetishist, to thoughts on motherhood. Each anecdote was like “relating” on steroids, yet always framed as the most glorious homage to the fuck-up in all of us. Consider her repartee with some ladies sitting to my right, ones who seemed to know all the words to “Titties” and had obviously left the kids at home:

Everett: Are there any mothers in the house tonight?
Ladies: (Hoots, nods).
Everett: Getting shitfaced … where are your babies at? Doesn’t matter, does it?
Ladies: (More hooting).
Everett: I’ve been pregnant many times and even though I never carried one of those babies to term, I consider myself to be a wonderful mother. It’s hard work, but we love it.

Everett then proudly introduced us to her offspring: a couple of plastic dolls. (“We’re the sweetest little family.”) The eldest, Olivia, demurely wore a surgical mask over her face. Apparently, she’d lost her nose after being left alone too long in a time-out…on the radiator. Baby Precious fared worse, just a bodiless head who eventually got a maraca shoved up her neck. A personal high point of the show for me was when Everett threw Precious to me and, as the band played a Carpenters-influenced “Darling You,” a ballad of sorts off her 2015 album Gynecological Wonder, I dutifully shook the beheaded-toddler instrument before handing her off to a game fag who seemed less rhythmically challenged than myself. (Turns out, this was an act of reckless endangerment). Everett instructed another gentleman to walk Olivia around the room. Unsure of what to do, he sat in his chair swaying the doll over his head until Everett told him to get off his ass, and then erupted into a maternal rage at our dual incompetence. “Jesus Christ – cut the track!” she yelled, and collected her kids for a family portrait. And then, just as she nailed the perfect pose with her brood, Olivia’s leg fell off. It was as if the gods themselves were smiling down on us.

But the burning question: what happened to nice guy Mike? Seems Bridget sat on his face somewhere between last call and the curtain call. Like any one-night stand, it wasn’t graceful. He got onstage, mounted a stool. She observed the notes of ginger in his beard. She asked him to pick her up. He tried. He flailed. She serenaded him with a gorgeous song called “Stay With Me,” and then the evening started to blur from the energy. The happy couple was applauded for with tenderness. I applauded too—not drunk, but intoxicated.

Bridget Everett & The Tender Moments will next perform at Joe’s Pub in New York on August 22nd and 23rd.