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.
10 REASONS WHY THIS SHOW ROCKED
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?"
- 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.
- Where’s Jeremy Messersmith?