Kiki and Herb Massacre Music

Kiki and Herb, the downtown cabaret duo that has been massacring old standards and current pop tunes with equal rigor for about a decade, are not a drag show, though of the two male performers, one inhabits a female character.

Herb (Kenny Mellman) bangs at the piano in stagey, gray-dyed hair and wrinkles that look like they were drawn on with a Sharpie; Kiki (Justin Bond) sits on a stool before a microphone, looking like something that Oscar de la Renta and the hairdresser Kenneth might have devised together on a peyote trip.

It’s a send-up of the whole cabaret-banter ethos, and its ultimately repressive language of vapid concern, that we all secretly accrue as the hapless victims of the 24-hour news cycle.

I think I first fell in love with Kiki and Herb shortly after the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999. Kiki’s reflections on the event—delivered in the stylized-casual patter that has sold so many albums for Barbra and her ilk—led her into a long and hyperventilating rendition of “I Don’t Like Mondays,” which seemed, in the context, to cast the Trenchcoat Mafia as its protagonists.

She’d gotten it wrong, as she always does. But her implicit question was a real one—it would become the dominant one, once the grief had passed—and somehow, in Kiki’s withered hands, it was also hysterically funny.

I don’t know—and, in fact, nobody but she and Herb do know—whether this routine will be a part of the duo’s Thursday-night performance at the Knitting Factory, which will be recorded for a live Kiki and Herb DVD.

But their shows are getting rarer, and as Kiki likes to say, “Everybody dies.” So go see them now.

The Knitting Factory is at 74 Leonard Street. More info at http://www.knittingfactory.com.