Don't overlook a drag queen. She didn't spend all that time in makeup to be inconspicuous. Laugh with her, sing along with her, by all means take her picture — but don't forget her. If you do, you're liable to end up with an in-box full of indignation, all in Jungle Red font.
In January, I devoted a column to San Francisco drag queens, since drag enjoys a large local following but doesn't attract a whole lot of critical attention. That shouldn't be too surprising. These performances usually happen in the last few hours before last call in dimly lit bars with little or no reserved seating, starting 30 or 45 minutes after they're scheduled to begin, featuring performers whose pun-heavy names are often difficult to make out, let alone spell. You have to love this shit before you arrive or else you'll never make it to the first number, no matter how many $4 well drinks you order.
After that column appeared, I heard from a few local drag devotees, among them an affable performer named Miss Trixxie Carr (that's two Xes, not one, thank you), who pointed me toward some clear omissions. I'm attempting to make up for those now. I should begin, however, with a caveat: Much like improv, a drag show will almost never give you the same thing twice. Lackluster shows do happen. So if you have any interest in local drag at all, you should give my opinion minimal sway and seek this stuff out for yourself.
First on my list was the Monster Show, hosted by Cookie Dough. She's one-fourth of the quadrumvirate behind Golden Girls Live, the increasingly popular drag event that descends on the city every June and December, bringing us word-for-word reenactments of key Golden Girls episodes whether we like it or not. Her weekly Castro drag show began at Harvey's in 2005, eventually migrating a block up the street to the man-cave known as the Edge (4149 18th St. at Collingwood, www.cookievision.com).
I dropped in for an Oscar-themed event at the end of February. The theme notwithstanding, no one made much reference to the Academy Awards, though the show did offer a few strong moments. I was, for instance, partial to Tweaka Turner's rendition of La Roux's "Bulletproof," with the performer twirling a pair of fiber-optic neon tassels attached to her chest. Only one of the girls went for the invariably boring tactic of sitting in a chair while lip-synching a humorless ballad about how special everyone is on the inside. And the show ended well, with Ruby Holiday performing a frenetic, crowd-pleasing mash-up of Barbra Streisand's version of "Don't Rain on My Parade," Bernard Herrmann's score from Psycho, Mary J. Blige's "No More Drama," and (most inevitably of all) quotes from Mommie Dearest.
The next Monster Show takes place at the Edge on Thursday, March 10, with a birthday tribute to local promoter Joshua J, himself a major proponent of the local drag scene. Mr. J aims squarely for the club-kid crowd, mixing drag with traditional dance-party elements to create events that should appeal to most nightclub regulars. His Booty Call Wednesdays at Q Bar (456 Castro at 18th St., www.bootycallwednesdays.com), produced in partnership with local drag legend Juanita MORE!, offers up your standard Castro rumpus, except with the welcome addition of rotating art installations and the occasional stripper in drag. Big Top, with his monthly blowout at Club 8 (1151 Folsom at Seventh St., www.eightsf.com), features an amalgam of go-go boys, porn stars, and drag queens, with Joshua J himself grabbing the mike from time to time so that he can throw free porn at the audience. At the Feb. 26 show, the stage was full of bodies, but none of those bodies seemed to be doing anything in the service of any kind of creative vision — except for the one go-go boy who decided to wear a Darth Vader mask too small for his face. By the standards of the evening, that was borderline genius.
The most satisfying drag shows depend on a leader who can program the evening's performances, giving the audience a reasonably cohesive show built on a strong concept. That was the case with the original Trannyshack, which always revolved smartly around a weekly theme. It's also the case with Trannyshack's clear successor, an inspired show called Some Thing, which occupies the stage every Friday night around 11:30 at the Stud (399 Ninth St. at Harrison, www.studsf.com).
At a recent show, hostess Vivvyanne Forevermore led the audience through a series of irreverent performances dedicated to Sade, with DJ Down-E serving as her huggably bearish sidekick. (If you're thinking Sade seems an unusual source of drag queen inspiration, you're right: Forevermore didn't even try to conceal her contempt for the singer's smooth-jazz stylings.) The audience, composed mostly of low-attitude hipsters, packed onto the Stud's dancefloor, cheap drinks in hand, welcoming this Friday night ritual with a wink and a smile.
More than any other local drag show I've seen in the past few months, Some Thing feels like it could only happen in San Francisco. In fact, I haven't enjoyed drag this much since Charlie Horse stopped running at the Cinch in January 2010. It's intelligently conceived, stylishly presented, and performed with a winning smirk, earning the best recommendation I know — namely, that I can't wait to go back.