Drag Rock

DOWNLOAD: Mercury Mad and the Plastic Bitches: “Single” MP3

On Halloween night at the Uptown Theater, a red-wigged drag queen screams into the mic, “I’m Mercury Motherfuckin’ Mad!”

And don’t you motherfuckin’ forget it.

Not that you could. The leader of Mercury Mad and the Plastic Bitches is a polarizing force — beautiful or raunchy, freaky or empowering, depending on one’s perspective. The effect is apparent even on the one night of the year when dressing like anything — even the opposite sex — is condoned.

The Plastic Bitches come on third at KRBZ 96.5’s HIM-headlined Halloweenie Roast, sandwiched between local new wave (and now defunct) pansies Lovers in Transit and hardcore act Bleeding Through. Mercury emerges in a black corset, a short polka-dot skirt and platform boots and announces, “I get kind of horny when I wear these clothes. Sorry!”

Mercury is the only band member in “these clothes.” Aside from a little paint around the eyes, a stocky drummer maintains his masculine gender role. The bassist just resembles a death-metal vampire: long black hair, flowing black shirt, tight black pants.

Throughout the set, dude bros in ball caps at the side of the crowd boo and holler, “You suck!” and “Get off the stage!”

But the band remains unfazed, throwing down sexually charged trash rock for 20 straight minutes. The bass player prowls the stage, often leaning into the crowd, savoring the adoration from die-hard fans in the pit.

Mercury takes a different approach.

Perfectly painted-on eyebrows knitted into a scowl, the rocker mocks the audience members who do applaud: “Shut up! It wasn’t that fucking good.”

Playing the part of the bitchy drag queen, Mercury will be just as antagonistic later during an afterparty at Korruption attended mainly by his friends and supporters. (Mercury is the host of Plush, a weekly club night, and Film Korrupt, a new weekly film night, at Korruption.) The fuck-you attitude on stage is designed to repel as it attracts, attract as it repels.

“Your purpose in being here isn’t to be worshipped. It’s to entertain people,” Mercury says. “I don’t care if people hate me.”

But provoking people — with taunts or by tossing out the body parts of hot-pink Barbie-like dolls (plastic bitches) — assures that they will pay attention. In the mixed company of the Uptown, even the true haters can’t look away.

As Mercury leads the crowd in a chant of “Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!” a flat, male nipple pops out of his corset, another reminder that this isn’t your typical rock frontman.

To quote one of the artist’s own songs, Mercury Mad is a “transvestite boy for real” who plays dress-up every day.

The week before the Halloween gigs, Mercury meets me for coffee on 39th Street in a long skirt, thick platform boots and a woman’s leopard-print jacket. “These are my real clothes,” he says.

There’s purplish shadow around his eyes, but without a wig, the look is more space alien than drag diva. His pale head is bald, save for a tuft of darkish strands on top.

He started losing his hair as a freshman in high school but soon found a solution. “I just threw glitter on and went dancing,” he says.

Born in Las Vegas under the sign of Mercury, the future Midwest club kid grew up “somewhere in Kansas” with a name he doesn’t like to answer to anymore and refuses to disclose. One of his first memories is seeing Alice Cooper live. He saw Kiss early on, too, and idolized Poison.

In 2001, he dreamed up his own rock persona, Mercury Mad, along with the concept and music for the band Vibralux, in a downtown Lawrence loft.

Mercury, whose seven and a half years of college included a lot of theater, auditioned the rest of the musicians like actors trying out for a play. The heavily made-up band would net some national attention before going on hiatus.

Mercury Mad and the Plastic Bitches is an extension of Vibralux. The cast is down to three, but the vibe — equal parts ass rock, garage punk and glam — remains the same.

What the dude bros at the Uptown don’t get is that it’s supposed to be fun.

Whether he’s DJ-ing or rocking out, Mercury expects people to enjoy themselves — and dance, damn it.

Categories: Music