PEACHES ISCARIOT? “I guess some people could see it as a guilty pleasure,” Peaches says of Jesus Christ Superstar. “I just see it as a fantastic story.”
Peaches calls me from Berlin. She's at a Vietnamese arts festival, eating a bowl of fish soup. She has recently returned from Seoul, where she exhibited a cave-shaped art installation, Fan Base, comprising things people have thrown at her during shows: bras, T-shirts, miscellaneous underwear, and dildos — which she's hung from the ceiling like stalactites.
"I saved all of those things," she says. Her haul weighed in at nearly 60 pounds.
A decade ago — before a Canadian schoolteacher named Merrill Nisker began performing anatomically correct electro under the name Peaches — most straight feminists weren't in the habit of flinging their panties at rock stars. Peaches changed all that. Soon, Bitch magazine subscribers were singing along to "Fuck the Pain Away" and embroidering change purses with the image of the hotpants-clad crotch that graced the cover of The Teaches of Peaches.
Now Peaches has achieved something equally unthinkable: making Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber palatable to hipsters. She's touring the States (arriving at the ICA this Saturday) in support of Peaches Christ Superstar, a show in which she sings Jesus Christ Superstar, beginning to end, with only long-time collaborator Chilly Gonzales to accompany her.
As a teenager, Peaches would sing the rock opera alone in her bedroom. "I guess some people could see it as a guilty pleasure," she says of Jesus. "I just see it as a fantastic story." She's drawn to both the plot — which, of course, follows Christ's last days and crucifixion — and the songs. "Especially in North America, Jesus Christ Superstar was more popular as an album. I love that it's told without any [spoken] words. This is an opera."
Just don't call it a musical. "I think that there's a lot of people in my generation and the generation after me who really like the music from Jesus Christ Superstar as much as I do but aren't fans of big musicals. I don't think people are interested in throwing a lot of money at a big production so that Andrew Lloyd Webber can make money."
Instead, Peaches charges rock-show prices for a stripped-down interpretation. "I bring it down to a very minimal level. I want to honor it for being good writing . . . to show it in a way that our generation can relate to."
Perhaps our generation will relate to what she describes as the "vaginal cross" that constitutes the set ("It looks like Mary with her hood on and everything") designed by Project Runway castoff Ari Fish. Or to the intergalactic tracksuit she wears in the second act. "I happened to be doing a concert in Iceland a few days before we started the first run, and I didn't even think about what I was going to wear. I was trapped there — when I played, the volcano was going off — and the Icelandic designer Mundi presented me with a gold jacket."
More mythic than her costume's origins was what happened during the initial run of Peaches Christ Superstar in Berlin. "My production manager said to me, 'Tim Rice is on the guest list.' And I said, 'Yeah, so's Jesus.' After the show, he came backstage and said how much he liked the production." Although now a rock star in her own right — one who's worked with everyone from Christina Aguilera to Iggy Pop — Peaches freaked. "It was pretty mind-blowing. It's definitely a different world."
PEACHES CHRIST SUPERSTAR | Institute of Contemporary Art, 100 Northern Ave, Boston | December 10 at 8 pm | $35-$40 | 617.478.3100 or icaboston.org