Chan Poling was out to show that he’s totally OK.
After taking a four-month health hiatus from performing, the revered Minnesota music maker returned to a Twin Cities stage in a big way on Friday night at the sold-out State Theatre for the first of three holiday concerts by the New Standards.
Not only did the pianist/singer perform, as expected, his annual wonderful wintery show with his jazzy trio expanded to a mini-orchestra with horns, strings and choir. But he also surprised by leading a two-song cameo by those arty rockers the Suburbs, his other band that dates back to 1977.
As always, there were other delightful surprises: actor-singer John C. Reilly, Martin Zellar rolling out his hockey anthem “Zamboni,” Tina Schlieske getting down with some James Brown and Poling dusting off the Wallets’ 1986 nugget “Totally Nude” with Wallets keyboardist Rod Gordon and saxophonist Max Ray.
With a late start on planning and rehearsing because of Poling’s oral surgery, the New Standards turned to several regulars to share the holiday joy: Singers Jeremy Messersmith, Aby Wolf, Cameron Kinghorn and Lucy Michelle, devilish dancer Rupert and poet Tim Frantzich all entertained with their usual aplomb.
The New Standards also relied on some of their familiar yule selections, including “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Snow Days,” the local hit by Trip Shakespeare, New Standards bassist/singer John Munson’s old 1980s band, on which Reilly did the spoken-word bridge about Mrs. Braintree.
The versatile Reilly -- a comic ham known for his performances in the movies “Stan and Ollie,” “Chicago” and “Walk Hard” -- showed both his comedic and musical chops, with a Santa Lucia number sung in both English and Italian, accompanied by accordion and mandolin.
The Suburbs treated the crowd to a recent hit, “Turn the Radio On,” and a classic oldie, “Cows,” both of which seemed to invigorate Poling.
As always, Poling and Munson showed their comedic instincts with their spontaneous repartee while New Standards vibraphonist Steve Roehm let his mallets speak for him. Another cute comedic touch was a choir of four children singing one-bar Scandinavian-like sounds as an occasional divertissement.
But Schlieske may have come up with the evening’s best zinger. When singing “Winter Wonderland,” after Parson Brown asks if you’re married, she responded, “I’ll say it wasn’t legal, man.”
The closing number, a free-wheeling Joe Cocker-evoking rendition of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends,” underscored the theme that the recuperating Poling is indeed getting by with assists from his many pals, but he could have used Schlieske to handle the over-the-top vocals as the song climaxes.