“It started out with just the three of us … and a dream.”
Reminiscing five years into his band's new-standard-setting role as holiday entertainers, New Standards co-leader John Munson made that comment about a third of the way through his trio’s set Friday night at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul -- when there was about five times the normal amount of musicians on stage. Expanding the event from a one-night affair to two nights and a Sunday matinee, the Standards similarly upsized the show itself. Here’s just a sampling of some of the extracurricular offerings on the extra-snowy opening night:
*Poetry and comedy courtesy author and public-radio fixture Katherine Lanpher, whose best bit was a holiday-angst-filled story about a “small regional carrier” that allegedly lost her luggage five Christmases in a row. Lanpher also popped up in one of the balcony boxes to sing part of “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch.”
*A drum line that marched from the stage into the lobby led by brothers Tim and Pat O’Keefe and their Brazilian-flavored percussion ensemble Batucada do Norte, which set up the intermission. You can probably guess which Christmas standard they also had their hands in (hint: pa rump pum pum), but the surprise came when New Standards co-leader Chan Poling segued that song into “Rattle My Bones,” a favorite by his previous band the Suburbs.
*A theramin solo courtesy Ken Chastain, who also played drums throughout the show. As if the theramin wasn’t, um, shocking enough, he plugged it in during a jazzy take on Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me.”
*An all-star cast of backup singers on such holiday classics as “Most Wonder Time of the Year” and “Angels We Have Heard on High,” featuring spouses Alison LaBonne and Brian Tighe (the Owls), Janey Winterbauer (Astronaut Wife), David Salmela (Twilight Hours) and Jeremy Messersmith. Winterbauer also took over lead vocals during the encore for a straight-up, don’t-mess-with-a-good-thing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
*A string section and horn/wind ensemble, the latter featuring local vets Stephen Kung, Max Ray and Rochelle Becker as well as Cloud Cult’s Sarah Elhardt and Heiruspecs’ Devon Gray (who, it turns out, also plays bassoon). They especially proved valuable during a melting version of Muson’s Trip Shakespeare nugget “Snow Days.”
*Two songs by Chris Koza, including his recent Rogue Valley ditty “Hummingbird” and a sweet, old kids classic, “Walking in the Air,” which they played underneat footage of the animated feature that bore it, 1982’s “The Snowman.”
*More guest turns by Adam Levy (Honeydogs) and singer/songwriter Ashleigh Still. She showed off a jazzy side while turning “What Child Is This?” into a “Moondance”-like slow-bopper.
*The brightest guest spot was by Matt Wilson, Munson’s bandmate from the Twilight Hours and Trip Shakespeare, who seriously has me thinking about looking up Anne Murray on iTunes after he soared on “Snowbird,” a song she made famous (and yes, Wilson's version was more Anne than Elvis).
*Rupert, the mysterious, PG-13-rated dancing machine who used to always show up at Hopefuls shows, among others. He especially cut loose during the Standards’ standard spin on Britney Spears’ “Toxic.”
Despite all that, the New Standards themselves were still the biggest presence under the tree, with Steve Roehm tearing up the vibraphones during a segment of “Charlie Brown Christmas” music and other instrumentals. Meanwhile, Poling and Munson showed off their year-round rapport. When someone in the crowd yelled out that the sharply dressed Poling “looks presidential,” Munson shot back, “I thought he looks residential.” Munson one-upped his one-upmanship: “I think I look Suburban."
The Current will be airing an edited version of these Standards shows Dec. 24-25. Tickets are still available to Sunday’s matinee, which won’t have the same all-star cast but will feature Adam Levy’s kids act Bunny Clogs as well as The Man in Red.