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Freaky Friday

[whitespace] Chrystallah & Metapolo
Jim James

Oh My Goth!: Tarot card reader Chrystallah gets spiritual with Metapolo at Freakshow.

Freakshow may be a geek show, but when the city's jeans-and-T-shirt-wearing lumpen can get down with Marilyn Manson imitators, drag queens and art fags, that's its own cause for celebration

By Michelle Goldberg

It's Friday the 13th, the night before Valentine's Day, and I'm crouched on a plastic crate on the side of the Stud bar opposite a massive black man dressed in gauzy hippie skirts, ski goggles, masses of red-streaked medusa hair and inches of inky eyeliner. His full name, he says, is "Dallas Hill from Houston, Texas, a.k.a. Miss Jupiter, but you can call me Jupiter for short."

Jupiter is an MC at Freakshow, a three-month-old weekly club night that promises a mix of dance music, go-go boys and performances. In the past, the event has featured bondage, fire acts, strippers, opera singers and naked sax players, but tonight there are more freaks than shows. One shirtless boy wearing a leash and a gas mask swivels to an odd mix of new wave, techno and funk. A gorgeous girl in silver heels and a bumblebee costume prances around with a video camera. Punks with hair shaped into devil horns and spikes protruding from holes in their faces mill about. One of the best dancers in the room is a senior citizen dressed in black, his stringy white hair in a pony tail and the cotton stuffed in his ear blunting the odd mixes coming from the turntables above, where Van Halen mingles with Salt-n-Peppa, and Paula Cole gets layered into techno songs. "Perhaps," a friend whispers, " 'Where Have All the Cowboys Gone' has a deeper meaning among gay leather boys."

There are plenty of boys in leather tonight, as well as boys in dresses, boys in catsuits and boys in ratty street-punk jeans. "We need places like this, where it's not a muscle-boy cha-cha palace," says Michael Burcell, a.k.a. DJ Cougar, the Iowa farm boy turned club promoter and the man behind Freakshow. "That's our goal, to bring back the madness to the gay community. This is a circus geek sideshow. We exist for a very distinct gay subculture."

Michael is decked out in a striped full-body leotard and feline makeup. Animal bones hang around his neck. ("They're from an elk or something, but I didn't kill it! I found it on the side of the road!") He says that after 10 years, the decline in San Francisco nightlife that began with the AIDS crisis is finally starting to reverse itself. "Just this last year it's started to pick up," he says. "People are getting healthier and they're going out a lot more."

And the people who are going out want to be entertained. The rat-pack retro of a few years ago has run its course, and suddenly cabaret, vaudeville and variety shows are back. "I think the future will be more about performance and visuals," Jupiter says. "Freakshow gives people the opportunity to express themselves with a clown act or a tap dance and make a little pocket change. Right now, kids don't want to feel nothing. They just want to go kaboom kabbam ka-ching and look all hard." Jupiter dreams of opening a club called Sodom and Gomorrah that would feature participatory mud wrestling and "Sumo dancers."

At the same time, in a city where a political consultant can celebrate his birthday with satanic s/m acts and get only bored snickers from most of the local press, it's hard to make all this willful transgression seem new. One lanky punk, a dead ringer for David Bowie circa Ziggy Stardust, stomped petulantly from the club and hailed a cab, complaining, "That was a B-O-A-R."

If Freakshow never reached the cathartic debauchery that Burcell seemed to be aiming for, it succeeded in what the Stud always succeeds at--in being one of the friendliest, most comfortable clubs in the city. The name may suggest a macho cruising joint, but the Stud is actually one of the more girl-friendly gay bars in San Francisco. Though many of the club's promoters proclaim their terror of being overrun by yuppies (the organizers of one party even threatened to throw me out if I wrote about them, fearing an influx of "bridge and tunnel people"), the sign over the door that says "Everyone's Welcome" pretty much feels true.

Freakshow, at the Stud, Ninth and Harrison streets; Fridays, 10pm-3am; $6-$12 (the more outrageously you're dressed, the less you pay); 415/252-7883.

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From the March 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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