Lady Rizo @ Feinstein’s
The New York Times calls her "sensational." The Wall Street Journal calls her "high class." I call her breathtaking. She is Lady Rizo, and, according to Time Out London, "If you only see one cabaret show this year, see Lady Rizo."
Lady Rizo performs in San Francisco at Feinstein’s at the Nikko February 6 and 7. Her new album, "Violet," released in November 2013, is brilliance incarnate. Don’t take my word for it, just look at her accomplishments. She won her Grammy on a duet with none other than acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma. She sings and records with multi-platinum recording artist Moby, and was nominated for a Music Video Production Award for the choreography on "New York, New York," a video featuring Blondie’s Debbie Harry. Lady Rizo does it all, and does it incredibly well.
When I was 7 or 8 years old, I touched Whitney Houston’s limo and vowed to never again wash my right hand. Thankfully that vow didn’t last long. But I did in fact save the rose petals that sprung out of Lady Rizo’s mouth at her last San Francisco performance. And they are in fact in a frame. And those rose petals share the frame with a card which reads, "Live daringly, boldly, fearlessly," because that’s what I took from Lady Rizo’s last San Francisco performance. Her integration of art forms suggests that I risk being a more integrated human. Her ability to reinvent song and movement helps me to look at old things in new ways. Her willingness to be completely vulnerable to her audience reminds me how beautiful human beings can be when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
If I could create a new world order, Lady Rizo would be its face. Not because she is that much of an infallible superhero, but because she is that honest and authentic of a person and performer. The world needs more of this. San Francisco needs more of this. Lucky for us, we’re about to get some.
I caught up with the Grammy-winning New York-based "caburlesque" chanteuse while on tour, headed to San Francisco via Sydney, Australia. Here’s what she had to say.
Josh Klipp: Lady Rizo, I think I am your biggest fan. At your last San Francisco performance, rose petals fluttered out of your lips and onto my lap. I saved them and put them in a frame!
Lady Rizo: (awkward silence)
Um, okay. So, onto my next question...I’ve heard that you coined the term "caburlesque" to describe your performances, drawing inspiration from theater, vaudeville, burlesque, cabaret and performance art. With all these influences, how do you decide what to put into a show and, conversely, what to leave out?
The most important thing is performing material I love singing or think is poignant or hilarious. Figuring out where to plug it in, I have a guide of: introduce, seduce, dig deeper emotionally, then the gown change, then something I can dance in, give them a ballad, and close with a ritual. It’s always a mathematical equation. And very hard to do in an hour, which is what I’m doing now in Sydney.
How would you describe your artistic journey during a performance?
Get a hit off the audience and ease them into my body and soul.
Does your artistic journey onstage reflect your life offstage?
Of course. I am human - they are incredibly interconnected.
This is getting deep. Also, I love you.
(more awkward silence).
So uh, okay; next question here... Do you have a pre-show ritual?
I warm up and my assistant Brenden whips up my hair into a frenzy while I paint my face. Then I touch myself in the mirror.
That’s amazing. What is the scariest thing about performing and how do you handle that?
That I’ll have an audience that doesn’t get it at all or won’t play along or will be on their cell phones. If this happens I get very angry and confiscate the cell phones and rub them in intimate places during the show. This got me in trouble in London.
(scratches head) Cell phones have intimate places?
Would you say that your performances celebrate anything and, if so, what?
They celebrate the feminine divine and music and laughter and sex.
How is performing in San Francisco different from other places?
San Fran is all the joy and freedom of the west coast with a level of sophistication closer to New York. It’s definitely one of my favorite American places to perform.
Yay! I love that you love San Francisco! Marry me.
So, if you could lead the entire world in one song at once, what would it be and why?
I think it would be just humming on a C chord.
How about San Francisco?
Um...a G chord?
Somehow that makes sense. What do you hope your audiences leave believing differently than when they arrived?
I hope I’ve renewed their faith in life and art. I want to be better than a street drug.
What’s the most fulfilling aspect about being an artist?
Channeling the pain of existence into inspiration.
And what’s the hardest part about being an artist?
Channeling the pain of existence into inspiration.
Until this moment I didn’t realize how much the pain of your existence inspires me. What inspires you?
Right now, it’s the Frenchman next to me in bed.
Does anyone else inspire you?
Nina, Etta, Peggy, Tina, Ella. I also love some contemporary voices - Shingai Shoniwa from the Noisettes, and belle du jour, Lorde.
Okay, let my hit you up with some questions that aren’t so cliché. What’s your favorite color?
I love the whole goddamn rainbow. My new album, "Violet," is the start of a spectrum.
Your new album is awesome. Song selection, arrangements, quality of musicianship, graphic design - it’s an integrated work of art. Speaking of beautiful beasts, what is your spirit animal?
The honey badger.
On a more serious note, what is your legacy?
I suppose it will be the experience of people who have been moved by my songs or live performances. I hope I have inspired more freedom of expression into their existence.
I personally avow that you have. Okay, last question: Who is your favorite designer and why?
It’s wonderful to wear Marchesa onstage, but lately I’ve been rocking some Naeem Khan sequins and it’s disco-rific.
I, for one, cannot wait to see you at your upcoming show!
Looking forward to it, too!
(swoons, faints, comes to).
Lady Rizo performs at Feinstein’s in Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason Street. Thursday Feb. 6 and Friday Feb. 7, 8pm. Tickets are $25-35 and available online at: