Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step right up and witness a world of Sin City wonders! See: the man so drunk he can no longer regulate the volume of his voice! See: a woman with magical breasts that defy gravity! Oooh ...
I would love to blame Britney Spears for this circus-party phenomenon that brings me out to two such events in just as many weeks, but I’m sure there’s more to it than that. So I’ll credit her instead with spurring the first wave of one-off circus parties—first in the gay clubs, then the straight clubs—following the late November 2008 release of her sixth album, Circus.
A year and a half later, the circus-party fad has apparently solidified into trend. Those one-off parties that showed so much promise—and the ensuing interest in outfits such as the Swingshift Sideshow (heck, they landed on the cover of the Weekly)—are all now bearing fruit with two new circus-themed parties, one weekly, and one monthly.
But from this one great idea has come two great interpretations. Cat’s Meow, at Jet every four to six weeks, is more circus/carnival than carnival/sideshow, whereas Freak Show Saturdays at Studio 54 is—as the name would imply—more carnival/sideshow than circus/carnival.
The differences don’t end there.
Cat’s Meow features—as its name would imply—resident DJ-producer Felix da Housecat. While the Chicago house DJ has enjoyed many dance chart-topping records and singles, the casual clubgoer might know him best for his remixes of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” and Britney’s “Toxic.”
Felix comes on at about 1 a.m., heralded by the kind of video intro (albeit shorter) that we’ve come to expect of a David Gutierrez production from his work with Perfecto and the late DJ AM. It’s a house night, to be sure, with hour upon hour of house and house remixes of pop that is simply catnip to clubbers, especially on an industry night. In other words, purrrrfect.
Hip-hop fans might not entirely agree, though. So for them, there’s Freak Show, with another well-known resident at the helm. Those who have recently turned 21 may not remember that “back in the day” when MTV played music, we had this show called The Grind, and it was presided over by a young DJ who skyrocketed to fame and then just seemed to just stay there. DJ Skribble has held a number of prominent residencies in Vegas (Ditch Fridays at the Palms, Body English, Cherry), but this is not just another feather in his laden cap.
Skribble comes on around 12:30 a.m. each week, also preceded by a video intro, and is then joined on stage by performers from the Swingshift Sideshow, who ply their dark trades of sword-swallowing and dangling things from flesh-hooks. Skribble spins electro-house remixes of hip-hop and rock so the mainstream, typically tourist crowd is a satisfied one. The night I stopped in, a shirtless Dave Navarro joined Skribble onstage with his guitar. Navarro also took it upon himself (crowd-pleaser that he is) to tongue any girl willing.
There’s a distinctly darker air about the Freak Show party. From the cast of creepy characters to the menacing images on the video screens, one gets the sense it’s party or die. And 54’s staff is loving the energy. One longtime 54 employee told me that the energy on Saturdays has been off the charts, a level of attention from the partiers that hasn’t been seen there—or in too many other clubs—since back in the days before there was one club for every ten partiers. That’s encouraging news!
Lighthearted is the party at Jet, full of more of that whimsy and wonder, but nothing dark—unless you hate clowns. Yes, clown alert! There is a short, round clowness making her way through the crowd. There is also a stilt-walker, rubber boy and sexy Siamese twins joined at the braid. Cat’s Meow is a throwback circus or carnival lifted straight out of a turn-of-the-century Coney Island postcard and complete with a barker/master of ceremonies (Lance Sherman) who actually did work at Coney Island.
For full production value, there is no contest. Jet is utterly transformed with strings of lights into a big top with all manner of live performers, all sexy, and all from the mind of Jennevive Barros of the Beverly Project, who will do it all over again at the next party.
Skribble’s party is lighter on the décor, which is limited mainly to the stage and a catwalk. But the partiers make up for that with crowd participation. One gent, particularly filled with the spirit, even gave it a go juggling glassware over the wood floor in VIP. Well, you can guess how that performance ended. It was at 3 a.m. that I headed for the most notorious sideshow attraction of all time: the Giant Egress.