Live Review: SSION with House of LaDosha at The Empty Bottle in Chicago

It was a cold and rainy Tuesday night in Chicago, but that didn’t stop the GLBT community from pitting fur coats and spandex against the elements in support of SSION (pronounced “shun”) at The Empty Bottle. “The Bottle,” as it’s affectionately called around these parts, is that classic kind of venue I remember as a teenager: the floor is the color of an oil spill, it gets too hot even when it’s 30 degrees outside (unbearable during the summer) and the band is only an arm’s length from the front row. It’s fairly small which means it’s the ideal locale to see a band before they get “too big,” especially when the show features an entertainer that is as enigmatic and unwieldy as Cody Critcheloe: the mustachioed maestro behind his 80s-influenced, electro dance act that transcends gender and genre.

I arrived around 10:45pm during the opening set of House of LaDosha, a black/white male duo—a point worthy of note only because I needed Google later for confirmation—composed of lead singer Antonio Blair, who distinctly resembled Lil’ Kim, and Adam Radakovich, the 6”11 white giant who shimmered and sauntered across the stage in a silver full-body suit. If you have ever attended their show, you probably know it’s best to avoid labels like: gay, straight, male, female, love, sex; they are melted together, hardened and then smashed to pieces until it’s all indistinguishable anyway.

House of LaDosha’s breed of dance music, sometimes called “electro crunk,” is looped beats steeped in big bass with aggressively sexual rap-style singing: while SSION’s music playfully paws at the listener with sexual innuendo, House of LaDosha smacks you in the face with a leather glove. Blair prowled across the stage, often posing on the speaker stack like a pinup star, singing lyrics like “Don’t stop, suck it, suck it,” a more visceral take on Uzi’s “Don’t Stop (Get it, Get it).” This is transgender dance music with hip-hop attitude, a seemingly odd juxtaposition of ethos considering a high degree of hip-hop music is entrenched in gender/sexual intolerance but somehow it works.

SSION’s Cody Critcheloe draws comparison to everyone from Prince to Madonna and even Michael Jackson (especially in his red jacket), but in my mind there’s a better point of reference: he’s a gay version of Elvis. All hips and attitude, Critcheloe held the mic in one hand and the cord in the other like he was about to lasso the crowd. But he didn’t need to reel anyone in; in fact he practically  needed a bodyguard to keep the outstretched hands of  male admirers at bay. It was that same kind of crazed, fandom that The King inspired, albeit on a smaller scale from a different demographic.

The set opened with a bit of musical foreplay; a groovy beat laid the groundwork for the evening, and Critcheloe took every chance he got to seduce the crowd with heaps of Chicago-specific compliments. “Do you guys wanna get high?” he crowed. We did. The set list was mostly geared toward their new material off 2011’s Bent, but also included 2004′s “Clown,” a song made for the Conga line at a party in space; it sparked an onstage dance party that included fans and the opening bands alike. This was highly representative of the communal vibe.

The highlight of SSION’s 10 or 11 song set list was undoubtedly a three-song stint that began with the funky En Vongue-esque “Luvbazaar” before rocketing into the pop stratosphere with singles “Earthquake” and “My Love Grows In The Dark,” a song that has spun on my iPod since I heard it two weeks ago. When Critcheloe told us that “tonight is not forever,” the crowd hoped for the best anyway—dancing with such voracity that I half-expected the ceiling sprinklers to burst and cool everyone down, especially during crowd sing-along “Psy-Chic.”

While the weather outside was dreary as could be, the Empty Bottle provided a safe haven for fun on October 9th. SSION’s music resurrects all the best qualities of indulgent 80s pop and he’s hitting his stride with excellent timing. Make sure and catch his show as he makes his way to your town.

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