Matt Wilson does Elvis

Matt Wilson does Elvis

The ninth annual New Standards holiday show may be the Twin Cities jazzy/loungey trio’s most ambitious and inspired yule show yet. The show Friday night at the State Theatre in Minneapolis was more ho-ho-ho and less Christmas-centric than previous New Standards seasonal affairs. Not that anyone was complaining like Scrooge.  

Spoiler alert: If you’re going to Saturday’s New Standards show, don’t read this review until after you get home.


  1. Matt Wilson’s name in lights. Last year, a female concertgoer stood up and shouted: “Where’s Matt Wilson?” So this year, the New Standards put his name in lights for an extravagant presentation – complete with dancers – of Elvis Presley’s “Tell Me Why.” He is an underappreciated Twin Cities vocal treasure.
  2. Har Mar Superstar in a suit. A sharp, stylish one at that. His name was in lights, too. He brought the house down with “I Got You, Babe” with Janey Winterbauer and delivered a deliciously “creepy” (his apt description) version of “Do You Hear What I Hear” during which he forgot words in the later verses but urged people to pray for peace, adding “I’m not kidding.”
  3. The Minnesota Orchestra Woodwind Quintet. These five musicians added class, texture (an oboe!) and depth to the ever-expanding sound of the New Standards. Loved their reading of “Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella.”
  4. Dan Wilson’s two brand-new original Christmas songs. The first, “The Hottest Christmas Eve Ever,” had some clever lines (and cheap shots at us weather-obsessed Midwesterners) and the fitting accompaniment of a video of a fiery fireplace (framed by holly) on a giant screen. His second selection, “The Best Gift,” was the night’s most poignant piece in which the singer, who travels a bit, asked for forgiveness from his loved ones because he’s away from home so much. The latter could be a holiday hit if recorded by the right person. Garth Brooks? Maybe Wilson’s pal Adele?
  5. Nellie McKay’s two getups. The New York cabaret star donned top hat and tails for a marvelous cabaret number, rendered with a German accent, in which she out-Dietriched Marlene. Then she dressed up like a giant marijuana plant (complete with green face) to join Minneapolis soul man Maurice Jacox, resplendent in a white dinner jacket, sparkly vest and raspberry-colored shoes, for a new number, “All I Want for Christmas Is Weed,” a playful reggae-infused ditty.
  6. The sharp Flat Five. This coed Chicago quintet impressed with harmonies and originality on retro-leaning jazz. Rupert, the one-named dancer who is a regular part of the New Standards entourage, emerged mid-song for a nifty little dance – much more effective than the pros who appeared during other selections during the nearly two-hour program.
  7. Open Mike Eagle. His hip-hop, including “Qualifiers,” provided a nice change of pace. Like Har Mar and Dan Wilson, he came from El Lay.
  8. Borscht belter. Julian Fleisher, an import from New York, delivered perfect supper club shtick (complete with a too-small sport coat) and some stylish crooning.
  9. New Standards repartee. Co-lead singers and mouthpieces Chan Poling and John Munson were in fine ad libbed form when it came to comedic patter. After Har Mar mad-libbed the lyrics to "Do You Hear What I Hear," Poling said: "The last line was he's sleeping in the trees." Said Munson: "Was he sleeping in the weeds?: Poling: "We're very religious up here. Are you smoking what we're smoking?"
  10. Sharp dressed men. The New Standards were stylin’ in new plaid suits from Top Shelf, the tailor in the Lyn-Lake neighborhood.


        1.  Without any advance warning, the State Theatre implemented a new policy of searching and wanding every patron. With only two doors open with ticket takers, the lobby was a complete bottleneck at show time. As it was, the concert started 20 minutes late.  The decision to increase the security was made at 10:30 a.m., according to a State official. But patrons weren’t advised in advance and there weren’t enough entrances and security personnel. Proper prior planning.

       2. New Standards pianist Poling sang lead on only two songs – and both were very late in the evening. “The Party’s Over” sounded like a Sinatra salute, and his perennial finale “Christmas Time Next Year” featured more gusto than usual.

     3. Time to scrap a disco number as a festive closer before the encore. Nothing against Aby Wolf singing “Ring My Bell” but this ain’t no disco and that ain’t no party song.


  1. Where’s Jeremy Messersmith?  
Nellie McKay

Nellie McKay