For the first time in 15 years, Kiki & Herb are on tour, and they are bringing the latest iteration of their holiday spectacular, "Do You Hear What We Hear?" to the Curran Theater for one night only, December 9.
For those unfamiliar, Kiki and Herb are the legendary cabaret characters created by Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman way back in the 1990s in San Francisco. They first performed off-Broadway in 1995, doing holiday shows and non-holiday shows that mixed dry banter, harrowing drama, bitter cabaret versions of Nirvana and Radiohead tunes, and a manic homage to the wizened old dames of an earlier era. And they quickly became fixtures in the New York scene, with the holiday shows becoming annual events through the early 2000s.
Bond's self-described "boozy chanteusy" Kiki, who is of indeterminate age, is the sort of singer who gets progressively drunker and louder before your eyes, and Herb is her long-suffering, occasionally supportive accompanist.
The pair went off to do their own stuff in the last decade, occasionally coming back together to revive Kiki & Herb in New York — but the last time they performed outside the city as these characters was 2007, and they last did a New Year's Eve show in San Francisco on December 31, 2005. Mx. Bond has been a regular performer at Joe's Pub at New York's Public Theater, and fans were heartened when they did a few dates of a holiday show in December 2021, nearly two years into a pandemic.
As the New York Times described their earlier holiday oeuvre, "In fright drag, with age makeup crisscrossing her face, Bond’s Kiki would stalk through the crowd like a bloodthirsty elf, savaging holiday carols and performing medleys that intermixed 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' with 'Suicide Is Painless.'" And as Mellman, an original member of the band The Julie Ruin, puts it, "It seemed like a gift to an audience that wouldn’t necessarily be going home for Christmas, wouldn’t necessarily have the best relationship with their family."
But now Kiki & Herb are back on the road this holiday season, kicking off a six-city tour in Boston and landing in San Francisco on Friday, December 9. They'll be performing on the grand Curran stage, during the between-shows hiatus at the theater following the recent closure of Harry Potter & the Cursed Child. Tickets go on sale Friday, October 21, at 10 a.m. at BroadwaySF.com.*
Mx. Bond got their start in the 90s drag scene in San Francisco, alongside the likes of Heklina, performing at clubs like Club Uranus at the EndUp. And there have been occasional solo, non-Kiki shows at Oasis, Feinstein's, and other SF venues in recent years, including a Pride show earlier this year.
As Bond told the Times last year, "I created the character of Kiki during the AIDS crisis. I was a young person in my 20s, a street activist. I felt like saying all the things I wanted to say as myself would sound too strident, too earnest. To have this boozed up old person who had done it all, seen it all, I could say anything as this character."
Bond added, "I brought elements of people I really knew into Kiki — very intimidating, very smart women who had just gotten a shit hand dealt, who somehow became these amazing creatures. So that was always there. Herb was based on this guy who worked in a piano bar that we performed at sometimes, this single guy who would drink tequila and had a picture of his cat on the piano."
Suffice it to say, IYKYK, and much like Taylor Mac's "Holiday Sauce" in 2018, this is sure to be the event of the holiday season.
Below, a couple of clips of Kiki & Herb preserved on YouTube, including Kiki's take on Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill," performed back in 2007.
*The original announcement had an on-sale date of October 18, but it has changed to October 21.