After touring Germany with the Shock & Moxie Tour, Lauren O’Brien and Lisa Bianco arrive on German Street in Erie — at Scotty’s Martini Lounge — on Saturday.
Expect the unexpected, unless you’re a connoisseur of punk-rock cabaret. O’Brien sings edgy, darkly funny, provocative songs, but also slips in poetry and stories about her life, including being a Buddhist and surviving Germany’s Autobahn. Bianco accompanies her on guitar.
“I always say it’s kind of like a combination of The Dresden Dolls, Patti Smith and a little Lucille Ball,” O’Brien said. “So, it’s fun and wild and crazy. The Germans have a wonderful, rich history of cabaret theater, so it was a really good fit (for us) there.”
O’Brien grew up in New York City immersed in books and theater. She was part of the Terra Incognita Theater, an experimental troupe founded (under a different name) by Russian ex-patriate Polina Klimovitskaya. O’Brien’s theatrical roots explain her strong stage presence; she commands audiences like she has them on a leash.
“Towards the end of my time in the theater company, I discovered this hidden dream of wanting to be in music and work with musicians,” she said. “I wanted to expand. I love literature and I love theater. I wanted to create something that combines the edginess and (screw-it) kind of attitude that’s in rock and roll and punk with literature and poetry.”
Her first album, “Inconsequential Dream” (2009), featured heavy, alternative rock. “People said it was like Patti Smith meets Smashing Pumpkins,” O’Brien said. “Panic,” the 2013 follow-up, took more of a power-pop approach and featured different collaborators.
For 2016′s “The Devil’s Girlfriend,” O’Brien collaborated with Mitch Distefano for a more stripped-down but edgy, rhythmic work that blends hooks, raw passion and bawdy humor in songs like “Alien Sex” and “I Hate Your Ex-Girlfriend.”
The title cut — and inspiration for the album — occurred at an unlikely place: a Buddhism conference.
“I was wearing this cool dress that was short in the front, long in the back and was sort of goth-y and flowy,” O’Brien said. “One of the women there came up to me and said, ‘Ooh, you look like the devil’s girlfriend.’ I thought ‘That’s a great song title, a great show title.’
“So, I immediately started writing the single of the album called ‘The Devil’s Girlfriend’ and everything coalesced around that,” O’Brien added. “There’s a loose through-line about a young woman who gets seduced by the devil, goes on a downward spiral from there and the demise of their relationship. Then she tries to find herself again through drugs and crazy sex and spirituality.”
Obviously, the album is autobiographical, right?
“I’m always in it in some way,” O’Brien said with a laugh. “But I love creating characters. So, it’s me but not me. How I write very often is (that) something will happen to me that intrigues me, or someone will say something, and then I magnify it. I add elements of my imagination and characters and dreams and other people I saw on the subway. So, it’s a very creative process for me. It’s definitely not a page out of my diary, but I can’t help but be in there.”
O’Brien said she’s found the intimate nature of the Shock & Moxie Tour — just two artists on stage — draws in audiences and affects them more strongly than perhaps a full-on rock assault.
“I feel this fabulous, magical feedback loop, where I have the good fortune to tap into these stories I’ve created and these experiences I’ve had and my own emotions and feel people are really resonating with it,” she said. “Sometimes people become emotional during the show. They laugh, they cry."
“Every audience is so different. Sometimes, we change the show a little bit, according to what it feels like people need or are responding to,” she added. “With certain audiences, we highlight the emotional moments and do some poetry and some deeper pieces. And other audiences, they want the fun, sexy songs. They want the crawling on the bar and the drugs and the decadence. And we’re happy to oblige.”