For their 12th annual Christmas show, the truly beloved New Standards gave to we:
12 thousand snowflakes falling. They fell Friday night at the sold-out State Theatre in Minneapolis during “Snow Days,” the one number that has been performed all 12 years by the jazzy Twin Cities trio. Singer/bassist John Munson has never sounded more passionate singing this favorite by his old band, Trip Shakespeare. It’s one of two classic original holiday tunes associated with the New Standards. The other is pianist/singer Chan Poling’s “Christmas Time Next Year,” given a rollicking reading this time.
11 musicians hiding. Behind Steve Roehm, that is. He’s the silent knight in the New Standards, the vibraphone player who never talks while Poling and Munson monopolize the microphones. The Laurels String Quartet and seven brass and wind players were sterling when called upon. And let’s not forget the additional musicians on vocals, guitar, harp, accordion and drums. In fact, drummer boy Ken Chastain had a memorable if short solo on jingle bells.
10 snazzy selections. In the first of two sets. The 70-minute opening segment was so outstanding that the crowd couldn’t stop buzzing at intermission as Dust of Suns, with piano, cello and harp, serenaded.
9 seasonal songs. Yes, it’s a Yule show. So you get some standards like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” But there were winter tunes such as “Blankets of Snow” and “Keep Me Warm” by the Okee Dokee Brothers, the Grammy-winning children’s music duo.
8 guests a singing. Including Tina Schlieske, Gaelynn Lea and the Okee Dokees, all Minnesotans making their first appearance with the New Standards for the holidays. All unadvertised, per New Standards protocol. Returnees Jeremy Messersmith, Matt Wilson and Cameron Kinghorn have sparkled in previous years.
7 holiday haikus. From Dessa, no less. Perched in an opera box in the balcony, the celebrated rapper/singer/poet/author recited seven hilarious holiday haikus with Max Ray backing her up with jazzy beatnik saxophone in an opera box on the opposite side of theater. Sample haiku: “Do not tell the tree it is dead quite yet. Let it drink like us. One more.”
6 Tinsel Toes dancing. The Tinsel Toe Dancers waltzed, rocked and even shook in Christmas tree costumes on one tune. They were onstage less than in previous years. Less was indeed more. And don’t forget fancy-dancing Rupert, who was onstage more than usual but for shorter stints, whether in his business suit doing a modified Moon Walk or his red jumpsuit doing the Devil’s workout.
5 golden things. Those ad-libs by Munson and Poling. They were funnier than ever talking about experiencing last week’s earthquake in Alaska, justifying an Iggy Pop song in a holiday show, explaining what Santa did before he became Santa, plugging their sponsors, and drinking and singing with Fritz Mondale (Poling’s father-in-law).
4 striking outfits. Saxophonist Rochelle Becker in a red sequined Sgt. Pepper-style jacket, Jearlyn Steele in an iridescent rose-colored suit (she called it her ornament outfit), Messersmith in a black suit with glittery gold window pane, and Schlieske with black bow tie and crimson velvet dinner jacket (she said she found it at Ragstock).
3 bravura performances. Steele saluted Aretha Franklin with a let-your-hair-down rendition of “Natural Woman.” With her voice and violin, Duluth’s Lea gave new meaning to “In the Bleak Midwinter.” And Aby Wolf delivered her most controlled and imaginative deconstruction of “Silent Night,” which she has offered at these shows for about eight years.
2 ensemble numbers. The New Standards always like to wrap up their second Yule set with a disco party. So the entire crew found a whole lot of soul on Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.” But even more celebrative was U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” featuring Wolf, Schlieske and Steele, who truly took it to church.
And 1 showstopper in a sharp suit. After years rocking with Tina & the B Sides, Schlieske has been doing a lounge act of late. On Friday, she tore into James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” giving it a fervent feminist spin, boasting about what things women invented, like stem-cell isolation, windshield wipers — and men. Her performance may have been the most moving moment I’ve experienced at a Twin Cities concert this year. Goosebumps for Christmas.