Stereo Total plus Leslie and the LY's
9 p.m. Sun., April 12
House of Blues, 225 Decatur St., 310-4999; www.hob.com
Former homecoming queen Leslie Hall, a native of wholesome Ames, Iowa, makes her own beats and rhymes about the joy of being bedecked in bling and fancy threads — a fairly standard formula for a rapper, one would think. Except that the plus-sized performer isn't referring to Jacob the Jeweler-style ice or Gucci and Prada outfits; she's repping for Hobby Lobby.
Hall leads the all-girl electro-dance-rap outfit Leslie and the LY's and first achieved fame as that peculiar 21st-century phenomenon, the Internet celebrity. (Her band Web site proudly displays a photo of Hall with Randy Constan of www.pixyland.org, a fellow cyber-celeb who people who spend too much time online will remember as the man who likes to dress like Peter Pan and used his site to find a wife.) Hall's own Web celebrity began as a result of galleries she posted on her site www.gemsweater.com, modeling her collection of more than 400 thrift-shop acquired "gem sweaters" — the sort of comfy but festive clothing item a Midwestern mom might wear to a special-occasion, covered-dish supper at church. In 1985. A graduate of Boston's School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Hall photographed herself in exactly the same pose in each appalling, sparkly sweater: folded hands, unsmiling, with heavily sprayed hair and huge eyeglasses, sitting as if for a school portrait. The Web traffic was tremendous.
In 2005, Hall started a band — Leslie and the LY's, featuring herself and several former art-school classmates. An accomplished crafter as well as a collector, Hall laid down her BeDazzler, focused her DIY skills on a laptop and began making beats. ("I use GarageBand," she says. "Really, anyone could do what I do.") The group quickly released the lo-fi dance-pop effort Gold Pants, named for a particularly popular outfit she modeled on the Web site, on her own Hefty Hideaway label, named for the dress shop lead character Tracy Turnblad patronizes in the John Waters film Hairspray.
The album included a spooky, psychedelic number called "Gem Sweater," the video for which was up to 651,315 YouTube views at press time. There's also a track called "Beat Dazzler." Though her music is similar to other alternative-electro types — Le Tigre, Peaches, Gravy Train — her inspiration, instead of those groups' sex, love and politics, remains in the craft-store and thrift-store aisles, with a little (clothing-specific) party mood thrown in.
"I like to sing about what I know, in a way that'll put you in a positive mood," Hall says. "Like, 'Ooh! I am wearing tight clothes.' In our audience, you can tell who's there to see us, because they're wearing gem sweaters and leggings, or they have glitter and wigs on. They're people who are doing exactly what the songs tell them to do: Put on the tight clothes and the shiny sweater that you never wear. Now is the time to put on the sweater with beads on it, because tonight is the night to dance forever."
Although the celebrity collector is now a dance-floor diva, the rigors of touring haven't managed to distract her from her first love. On the road, the many craft stores and thrift shops of America stretch out before her like a sparkly, enticing, sweater-filled map.
"We've discovered Savers, have you heard of Savers? And Value Village. Value Village is amazing. All these places where all the clothes are organized by color and you have to buy the jewelry in a big plastic bag. We're going to have to find a place soon to mail all this stuff home."