Concert Highlights–Sandra Bernhard at Joe’s Pub, 12/31/2015

It was open-ended, but even Sandra Bernhard’s opening remark at her New Year’s Eve Joe’s Pub late show–the last of her annual year-end week-long run–was good for a hearty laugh: “As the years go on, you think, ‘Why?'”

The rest of the Sandyland gig–named for her new SiriusXM daily talk show–was the usual Sandyland roller coaster: a lot smoother than the first one on Dec. 26, but no less threatening in terms of going where no other performer dares.

“Be on your toes,” she cautioned. Not that she says stuff we’re all thinking—like they stupidly say of Trump—she says things you aren’t expecting, as she then urged, “Take the law in your own hands!” And who could expect that Sandy would then side with the NRA?

Face the facts, she said. There will never be gun control in this country. There was reason for guns in the old, Wild West, she explained, when all you had was bag of flour and a tin of lard. And now, all women need to carry a Lady Derringer in their purse, find a spot in the room where you can see everything, and “if you see someone sweaty and carrying a backpack, blow him away and slide out the back!”

(Editor’s note: She wasn’t seriously urging any of the above, but in this day and age, for everyone’s protection and to block any needless misinterpretation of Miss Bernhard’s humor–as has so often been the case by idiots in the past–let there be no mistake.)

(And no, there was nothing bigoted in her observation, in reference to her girlfriend, that “WASPs blow like a water main [whereas] we Jews release a little [pent-up anger and frustration] each day!”)

(And no, too, slight on plumbers or electricians in Sandy’s rant about the trauma of applying for college for her daughter–who even though we’ve never seen her, we’ve kind of watched grow up, what with her mom’s brief mentions over the years during these shows—and finally blurting, in reference to plumbing and wiring, “Get a skill, little lady!”)

As ever, deserving celebrities were skewered, with Taylor Swift this year taking the well-earned cake.

“Miss Swift, don’t swift-boat me, girl!” Sandy admonished in her “Sandyland Squad” bit, wherein she rattled off Swift’s girl squadettes with appropriate cracks (“It’s back to school time, Karlie Kloss!” and, in hushed voice, “There’s Lorde in the corner, writing a song”). Cut to, “‘You’re So Vain’ was about Warren Beatty after all? You’re about 80 years too late for that one, Carly. We no longer care!”

Turning around to celebrity friends, she observed, “You’re not a ‘lady of the canyon’ anymore, Joni [Mitchell]’ in relating a bit about driving with Michele Lee to visit Liza Minnelli in her new pad in the mountains in L.A., only to find spiders, Liza’s three schnauzers penned in outside, and Liza nowhere to be found inside. Surmising that Liza had probably gone into town for a meeting with management, Sandy wondered, “What about the schnauzers?”—thereby becoming the only one I’ve ever seen get a belly laugh uttering the word schnauzer.

Musically, Sandy performed the best version of “Me and Mrs. Jones” I’ve ever heard after noting that Tom Jones had recently appeared on Sandyland, long after she hysterically gave him near-head on her 1992 HBO special Sandra After Dark. By then it was near New Year.

“Fuck the countdown! Let’s have a meditation,” she said, and while it was very funny, she followed by expressing her sincere wish to make 2016 a better year–and her hope for greater thoughtfulness and patience. After her traditional mix of straight and punk rock versions of “Auld Lang Syne,” she declared, “It’s official: The holidays are over.”

But not the holiday sales.

“I slave for this shit!” Sandy said, after noting that she did’t have any corporate backing, and would come out to sign all merchandise after the show so long as the line kept moving.

“Just don’t tell me your life story!” she cautioned prospective cash-only buyers, having already instructed everyone that a cash machine was up the block at Walgreens, and that she didn’t care if anyone was mugged, beaten or bloodied on the way back from it.

(Editor’s note: She wasn’t serious here, either—at least about the getting bloodied part.)

She closed with a smart mashup of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and “Can You Feel It,” leaving listeners to head out into 2016 definitely unbloodied–and hopefully more thoughtful and patient.

Concert Highlights–Tammy Faye Starlite’s ‘Broken English’ at Joe’s Pub, 5/13/14

Tammy Faye Starlite as Marianne Faithfull at Joe's Pub (photo: Kevin Yatarola)
Tammy Faye Starlite as Marianne Faithfull at Joe’s Pub (photo: Kevin Yatarola)

With Tammy Faye Starlite’s Broken English/Marianne Faithfull presentation, which she reprised Tuesday night (May 13) at Joe’s Pub after debuting it in March at Lincoln Center, she takes her embodiment of brilliant but troubled rock chanteuses—the first being Nico—to a new level.

Her interpretation of Faithfull is indeed that, to be sure, but the monologues that lead into the songs give her more of a chance to extemporize with topical material, being of course, that unlike Nico, Faithfull is still alive. Different, too, is that while both were once beautiful, drug-besotted blonds who struggled to step out from the shadows of iconic male artists, Nico was a tragic figure, Faithfull triumphant.

Fearless as ever, Starlite held nothing back, even making light of the recent suicide of Jagger’s lover (“Too soon!” groaned one audience member, though not without full approval) and jabbing at name writers in the house–hitting this one especially close to home when singling him out for not really living so much as observing. Ahead of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” she even gratuitously broke character in referencing “Jew New York”—a standard crack from her uproariously anti-semitic, pornographic and Born Again Tammy Faye Starlite country shows—and still in Faithfull English accent, copped to the confusion.

As a whole, Broken English is a masterwork. But listening to Starlite’s verison some 35 years later, the lead titletrack takes on new significance.

First, was there ever a song more fitting of the word “roiling”? Or “churning”? That’s how it opens, that’s how it stays. Faithfull singing—often croaking–with stark directness lyrics including

It’s just an old war,
Not even a cold war,
What are we fighting for?

Lose your father, your husband,
Your mother, your children.
What are you dying for?
It’s not my reality.

Don’t say it in Russian,
Don’t say it in German.
Say it in broken English,
Say it in broken English.

Starlite sang it perfectly, as she did with the entire album, as she did with Nico.

Reagan ratcheted up the Cold War when he took office shortly after Broken English came out in 1979. He ordered a massive military buildup, condemned the Soviet Union as “an evil empire” and instituted the so-called Reagan Doctrine of foreign policy, which heavily supported Afghanistan’s pre-Taliban mujahideen groups in their war with the Soviets, and engaged in the illegal sale of arms to Iran in order to fund the anti-communist Nicaraguan Contras (the Iran-Contra Affair).

Who knows what’s going on clandestinely today, that is, besides the use of drones—often with tragic collateral damage consequences. But we do know that we have a president—a “Dahomeyan pinko octaroon,” as Starlite has identified Obama in her Tammy Faye shows–who hasn’t resorted to name-calling, or to any kind of nationalist adventurism. In fact, he’s done everything he can to avoid the militarism of the previous administration, much to the contempt of those of it and its supporters.

In hearing the classic antiwar anthem “Broken English” at this juncture and upon reflection, we have much to be thankful for, for not fighting for.

Concert Highlights–Valerie Ghent at Joe’s Pub, 5/1/14

As longtime backup singer/keyboardist for Ashford & Simpson, I’ve been seeing and admiring Valerie Ghent for years. But her Muse CD release party last week at Joe’s Pub was something else.

The big surprise was that much of the time she got up and away from the piano, leaving the keys in the capable hands of veteran New York blues pianist Dave Keyes. She later credited Simpson, actually, for convincing her to leave the safety of the keyboard bench and move to the stand-up mic—where she was flanked by her own terrific backup singers Keith Fluitt and Dennis Collins.

Ghent seemed completely comfortable in her new role of stand-up singer moving about with ease and singing with equal authority—or so it seemed. She said after that she’d been sick for weeks and that her mid-range was weak, though her low and high ends were okay.

It all sounded fine to me. Then again, as she also pointed out later, we never really got to hear her lows and mids when she sang with A&S—or now with Simpson–since she sang only high parts.

At Joe’s Pub Ghent hit the highs on “groove” songs like the chugging A&S-inflected “Wheels On a Train” from her previous album Day to Day Dream (2012) and really let loose on the titletrack, climaxing with catlike squeals. But as it was an album release party for Muse, the centerpiece of the show came after she dismissed her hard-funk band and brought out cellist Dave Eggar and violinist Katie Kresek to accompany her on piano.

Muse, she explained, is a very different album–12 piano/vocal ballads that bring her back to her musical roots, in that she started in music playing cello at age five. The intimate piano-and-strings setting of new album songs like “You’re My Star” focused on her vocal range before she returned to the hotter groove tunes with the full band.

Ghent made special note of a couple songs co-written with her husband Tom Bisio—a renowned martial artist/Chinese medicine practitioner with whom she has also collaborated in teaching and instructional texts. I’ve actually taken one of their seminars, and applauded loudly.

At his table, Bisio smiled sheepishly and said that he had told her not to mention it.