First off, they want it known that this year’s 10th anniversary shows won’t just be the greatest hits edition of the New Standards holiday concerts.
“We are cherry-picking some of the magical moments, things we’ve heard people say they wanted to hear again,” said John Munson, the Semisonic and Trip Shakespeare bassist who co-founded the lounge-y but never kitschy jazz-pop cover band after two decades of playing the louder stuff.
However, his bandmate Chan Poling — another rock vet who leads the Suburbs — quickly added, “There’s going to be a lot of new stuff, too, a lot of surprises and some guests we’ve never had before.”
Along with vibraphone wiz Steve Roehm, the New Standards have made a tradition of blending old and new traditions in their holiday concerts.
The shows began as a one-night affair at the Fitzgerald Theater in 2007 and have grown to include two (nearly sold-out) evening performances plus a matinee at the State Theatre next weekend. The guest roster has expanded a lot, too, from a few friends the first year to a long list of naughty and nice musicians each year, often including Munson’s old bandmates Matt and Dan Wilson and other local music-scene fixtures past and present.
While they wouldn’t reveal the secret recipe in store for Year 10, Poling and Munson did look back on essential ingredients from the past nine years.
Their go-to songs
Munson: “Almost every year we’ve done ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,’ mostly because Chan had this great idea for a Cab Calloway kind of arrangement to it, and it just worked right away. It feels natural. And it works in a way that we can keep adding instruments and singers, as we do every year, and make it bigger and better.”
Poling: “We always do our original song, ‘Christmas Time Next Year,’ at the end of the show. It’s sort of with that intention to let people know to come back next year. There’s always that kind of melancholy at the end of the holiday season that you have to wait till next year to do it again.”
Munson: “We’ve been doing ‘Snow Days’ since the Trip Shakespeare days. It just popped out of Matt’s head, and everybody recognized it for what it was. It’s sort of the quintessential Minnesota experience, that day you get socked in by the first big snowfall. I’d say I love a snow day more than I even do Christmas.”
Munson: “We haven’t had any real train wrecks, but for the last several years we’ve picked out these big, classic, orchestrated R&B numbers. I wish we could keep them in rotation, but they’re always so much work to pull off, we don’t try them again. Songs like: ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ and ‘Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.’ ”
Poling: “We did ‘MacArthur Park’ one year, and that was a giant undertaking that I don’t think we’ll ever do again.”
Munson: “Matt sang that one, and went all out for it. It’s just the kind of song that splits people up into two distinct camps: those who hate that song, and those who love it.”
Munson: “One incredibly memorable moment was [last year] when Har Mar said, ‘Baaaa!’ for what ‘the lamb said to the shepherd boy’ [in ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’], and then he proceeded to tear up the song on stage. It was unplanned and completely weird, and really, really funny. It was crazy in a very punk-rock way. I think Har Mar had had enough in more ways than one.”
Poling: “We have the recurring idea of Matt’s song always being very over the top. A couple years ago we did it with ‘MATT’ written in lights in big letters like Elvis’ name, and dancers waving these big flags that also said ‘Matt.’ ”
Munson: “One of the flag carriers was our friend Joe Spencer [St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s cultural liaison], who — while waving this giant flag like something out of ‘Les Miserables’ — lost his footing as he was running across the stage. The flag and everything went down with a very loud thud. It’s a good thing he didn’t break his face, and we could laugh about it.”
Most emotional moment
Munson: “Definitely when Chan sang the Flaming Lips song ‘Do You Realize?’ That was after Eleanor had passed on. [Poling’s wife, Eleanor Mondale Poling, died in 2011.] It was really incredibly moving. It was also the year my mom was super-duper sick. That stuff just hits you harder around the holidays, and that year it was particularly hard.”
Their undying holiday spirit
Poling: “I genuinely love the holidays. I grew up watching the Charlie Brown special, and then Christmas took on a different hue in the ’60s and ’70s. It wasn’t quite so jolly. So we want it to be fun. We’re the Christmas show that doesn’t do too many Christmas songs.”
Munson: “You can’t do it if you have any ‘bah humbug’ in you. You would be betraying yourself too much. Our show is definitely joyful, and it’s also a celebration of the local music community. We try to invite a lot of different people every year. It’s a lot of people from our past who we love, but a big part of it is also unwrapping new people for our audience to check out and enjoy.”
Poling: “Everybody that’s a part of the show looks forward to it. It’s a big get-together, like Old Home Week with friends. If we go down in history knowing we put on this town’s greatest holiday party every year, that’s good by me.”