Maximum Ames Music Festival Concert Review: VARIETEASE Showcase and Grandmaster Flash

Melissa Garrett

Pumping up the bass with Gwen Stefani’s “My Humps,” the audience excitedly chats among themselves at DG’s Tap House. Wafts of mixed drinks and craft beers are noticeable, and dancers in heavy eye makeup, glitter and sequins and platform heels advance toward the stage. The lighting is soft but colorfully arranged for the Iowa School of Burlesque’s VARIETEASE showcase.

The hooting and hollering begins with a woman dressed up in a white, fitted floor-length gown, her blue-green hair arranged to look like a tiara. She struts around, waving like a royal empress, as “God Save the Queen” blares buoyantly through the speakers.

It is not long until the music changes and the glitter starts to fly—the dancer strips off her long, white gloves and teases the audience until she is down to nothing but British flag pasties and her glittery, British flag cutout underwear. She jumps around and struts her stuff until the music ends, and the audience screams, thirsty for more, often reaching out to the dancers with dollar bills and receiving smiles and kisses from dancers.

Though some performers showed off 95 percent of their body, the variety of performances catered to both tasteful stripping, kinky dominant/submissive acts and some lip syncing. From a woman bringing a shirtless man in tiny black shorts out on stage like a dog on a leash to some theme dances—like Phoenix L’Amour’s well-received “B***h Better Have My Money” dance—the dancers all seemed to enjoy performing.

The show alternated between traditional burlesque strip tease and other non-traditional acts, like the Seven Sins Slideshow. The slideshow catered to carnival lovers and featured a shirtless, tattooed man dressed in suspenders and shorts with a circus-like top hat. His deep red-headed assistant wore a tight black corset with short, ruffled booty shorts and heels. This was one of the more uncomfortable acts, since the man hammered a nail into his nose, snapped a mouse trap on his tongue and even allowed audience members to pay increasing amounts of money to staple-gun money to his stomach, chest, face or even his genitals, for which he earned $23 for the task.

One of the most impressive dances was by Bunny Galore, a special guest Burlesque dancer from Texas. Known for her four-tassle twirling, the blonde woman enticed the audience with her glittery flight attendant costume with high heels and shimmied and smiled toward the audience until she revealed the tassels underneath her bra and placed on each side of her upper buttocks. Spinning wildly, she takes it to the floor, gyrating and bending to the beat of the music. Her smile only widens as the audience cheers loudly when she does a handstand on the wall and twerks.

There was no shortage of glitter on stage by the time all of the dancers returned to the stage for curtain call and posed for photos, but it took nearly 45 minutes or more to get set up for Grandmaster Flash.

Completely tearing down the stage, the lights are dimmed to a soft blue as black and silver mix tables are set up on stage. Grandmaster Flash, dressed in a dark grey tracksuit with deep neon red stripes on the sleeves, appears midway through the setup as the audience cheers loudly—hungrily watching as Flash sets up his silver Apple laptop in the center of the table.

Pulling the neon green microphone toward his mouth, Grandmaster Flash could pass for a younger version of himself, with his “GF” logo printed alongside a lightning bolt on both his red hat, right breast pocket and back of his jacket. Focused and intent on his laptop, it is clear that his shining records are but tools in which Flash makes mixing music an art on stage.

With his black headphones cocked to the side of his head, Grandmaster Flash opens the show with a mix of “Under Pressure” and the bass of “Ice, Ice, Baby,” yelling, “Put your hands up, Iowa—keep it moving!” The crowd erupts into full dance mode, pumping their fists and jumping up and down as Flash screams, “Iowa, are you ready?!”

Flash’s manipulation of his records amidst the variety of music and throwbacks to the ‘80s and ‘90s—with upbeat salsa club music, some Snoop Dogg, Eminem and even classic Michael Jackson hits—the audience could not get enough. “Staying Alive,” “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and “Sweet Dreams” were some of the most enjoyable songs, but there was not a moment where it appeared the audience was bored or not enjoying the performance.

What Grandmaster Flash brought to the stage was art—manipulating records to create backspins and squeaking sounds in a truly innovative way. Clearly he knows how to pump up an audience and he loves every second of it.

Both humble and youthful, Grandmaster Flash brought down the house after the audience screamed enthusiastically for an encore, to which he obliged and played one last song. Members of the audience reached out to him as he grasped hold of their hands, congenially, and grinned broadly at his fans.

Getting to see the father of hip hop in his element was an unforgettable experience. Grandmaster Flash’s love and appreciation for all forms of music is contagious, and the audience could not help but to dance and sing along for nearly two hours.