There’s a stubborn pall that blankets Atlantic City. Once a hotbed of Mobster decadence during Prohibition (hi, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire!), the New Jersey gambling town puttered out into a miasma of bedbugs and barflies during the ’60s. It’s never quite shaken that reputation of being Vegas’ developmentally disabled cousin, no matter how many entrepreneurs have descended upon its carcass. So it was almost cheeky that Perez Hilton chose this destination for his recent Out in AC festival, a colorful, loud-and-proud LGBT-friendly celebration that featured performances from LaRoux, Keri Hilson, and Kelis. With the House of Blues headliners being more fun than glittery (and Atlantic City in general being a tough draw), the event boasted a respectable attendance but was far from sold out. The elbow room actually worked to Out in AC’s advantage, fostering a sense of community among the celebratory crowd members and an unusual intimacy between those revelers and the entertainers on stage. All of which is to say: It felt special, like you were a part of a privileged group. English synth-poppers LaRoux were perhaps the most reserved of the lot, and that’s saying something considering the way she worked the bouncy masses. Not one with words, the English-reared singer Elly Jackson—an androgynous, kempt incarnation of Elvis, with her shiny gold lounge jacket and strawberry mini-pompadour—instead practiced on-stage calisthenics by zipping back and forth, left and right during ready-make dance tracks like “I’m Not Your Toy.” This never seemed to wind the pitch-perfect Tilda Swinton look-alike, who concluded the set with a powerful take of LaRoux’s breakout hit, “Bulletproof.” Given the recent spate of suicides by emotionally tortured gay youths, the song took on even more relevance, a gesture not lost on this crowd. This would be a tough act to follow for Keri Hilson, whose tunes seemed to elude most of the concertgoers, were the charismatic singer not backed by a coterie of fierce, hair-flinging dancers most accurately described as latter-day Fly Girls. A one-woman hit-making machine and solo artist in her own right, Hilson is perhaps best know for penning singles for Britney Spears (“Gimme More”) and Usher (“Love in This Club, Pt. II”), and in turn ushering rappers onto the pop charts through her incalculable collaborations (Timbaland, Nas, T.I.). This night, she played songs both solo and shared—the latter with help from backing tracks. Switching between live and Memorex wasn’t the most effective strategy vocally, but Keri & Co. won over the crowd—a mix of gay and straight, hipsters and queens—with warmth and good-natured sass. Like, did we mention she was dressed like a biker and had a gun-shaped microphone? Kelis took stage like any headliner of a queer festival ought to—looking like a svelte, human disco ball in her skin-tight sequined violet catsuit. This diva-ness was at odds with her husky voice, but no matter: Her presence was gloriously commanding, be it during the stripped-down dance song “Acapella” or a surprising, blow-out mash-up of Madonna’s “Holiday” with Kelis’ biggest single, Milkshake.” But this front came down just as quickly as it was affected. Every so often, the smiley singer would interrupt the proceedings to comment admiringly on a crowd member’s outfit or just, you know, see how her fans were doing. Truth be told, the kids were alright, if a little bummed by the brevity of her set—a commonality that plagued all the performances tonight. So by show’s end, the night was still sorta young. The House of Blues crowd emerged primed, plucky, pumped. Spilling into the Showboat casino, the Out in AC attendees hits the slots, the bar, and the diner (for a midnight snack), sticking out like exotic creatures in a morass of chain-smoking grandmas and Snooki-and-Situation types loudly looking for a party. Little did they know they’d just missed it.
[Written by Nisha Gopalan]