Roisin Murphy Plays Rare U.S. Gig at Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival

Joseph Okpako/WireImage
Roisin Murphy performs on Day 4 at the Sziget Festival 2016 on Aug. 13, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary. 

Roisin Murphy doesn't do shows in the U.S. that often, so when the Irish singer-songwriter played the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival on Friday (Nov. 4) night, the crowd's pre-show glee was palpable. And for good reason -- on wax, Murphy is a peerless architect of electronic art-pop, and in concert, she creates a singular experience that melds joyous camp with high fashion and leaves you breathless.

"Someone said to me a long time ago, 'You're a drag queen,' and at the time I was a little like… hello? But then I realized over the years that I actually am," Murphy recently told Billboard ahead of her New York City gig. Even if you missed the references to Paris Is Burning and the House of LaBeija on her 2015 comeback LP Hairless Toys, Roisin's affection for drag culture was abundantly clear the moment she took the stage at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Wearing one of several campy outfits she'd don over the course of the night (impressively, despite the many costume changes, she only left the stage once), Murphy grabbed the microphone while holding an oversized handbag (#PurseFirst) filled with red ribbons; she looked more like a kid's conception of what grownups dress like than an actual adult. 

Queen Roisin pic.twitter.com/NuT9vsotS4

As her four-piece backing band (including longtime collaborator Eddie Stevens) brought her electronic soundscapes to vibrant life, Murphy's vocals stayed flawlessly on-point throughout the night. Her singing was full-bodied on songs like "Overpowered" (which was performed, incredibly enough, with a banjo on the verses) and "Ten Miles High," and her vocals were appropriately eerie on songs like "Dear Miami" and "Exploitation." 

While most electronic artists foster an aura of mystery or detachment onstage, Murphy isn't afraid to reveal that she's enjoying herself while performing. And it's that stage presence that turns what could be merely an excellent concert into a sublime, unforgettable experience. During set opener "Mastermind," Murphy smirked and winked at her fans like a 21st century update on Marlene Dietrich (another woman who was essentially a drag queen); for "Gone Fishing," she put on an intricate headpiece that looked like a cross between a flamingo and a crustacean. Singing "Ten Miles High," Murphy busted out the "construction chic" realness from the cover art of Take Her Up to Monto, even sporting a hardhat with a functioning flashing lights.

Unless most pop stars that play around with costuming, Murphy doesn't try to hide the transitions from one outfit to another. She relishes in each costume change, exaggerating the act of slipping out of a tutu, putting on a massive hair metal wig or donning a two-layer mask. And that's really part of her genius -- she's arty, for sure, but there's no sanctimoniousness or aloofness about it (the same goes for her music -- she sang the chorus of Reel 2 Real's "I Like to Move It" at one point during the night). It's abundantly clear she's living for every feather boa and oversized pair of sunglasses -- she's as much a purveyor of campy weirdness as she is a devoted fan of it.

When the show wrapped, Murphy was treated to easily the most enthusiastic applause I've ever heard at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Despite the eight-year gap between her second and third solo albums, it's apparent that Murphy's fans are no less ardent. And based on what she told Billboard in a recent interview, it's possible we might see another Roisin Murphy album in 2017. Regardless, let's hope we see a lot more of Roisin Murphy onstage in the States in the future.


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