Sunday, December 28, 2008

Did they know it's Christmas?


betty sharpens it up
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Well, when you're feeling sorry for yourself, there's nothing like heading out to a benefit to be reminded that they're predicting the food pantries to run out faster than ever, and further, more people than ever before will be needing to use a food pantry. So it seemed more fitting than ever to reprise a song that was originally produced to combat famine in Africa to raise money for the Hunger Task Force.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I would have gone to Shank Hall Friday night anyway, since it's about time I caught Testa Rosa live. Thing is, it wasn't a particularly representative show for them, even though they were brilliantly beautiful. Lead singer (and songwriter) Betty Blexrud-Strigens has a voice meant for 4AD, as I've mentioned before, and their self-titled CD furthers that comparison: you can hear bits of Juliana Hatfield, Throwing Muses, and even touches of Sarah MacLaughlin in the songwriting, arrangements, and delivery.

But at this decidedly Christmastime-themed show, Testa Rosa seemed to remind us all that they (unlike much of the 4AD stable) are definitely Americans. Betty wails out Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December" (a friend asked, "Wasn't that Glen Campbell?" and we agreed that it wouldn't be out of character for Campbell to sing it) with such convincing regret and authority that she could make a career out of tearful country blues. But then they jump into some of their originals -- including what should be their hit, "Weather Underground" and their place in the alterna-verse is sealed. Dressed all in black, right down to the heavy boots, she's as Cool as Kim Deal, but a lot more talented. Her husband, Damian Strigens, is overlooked in this band (most guys in bands fronted by talented beautiful women tend to be), and that's a shame. He rifles off arpeggios on his guitar, he adds subtle flourishes here and there, and he doubles on drums (and bass, or anything he needs to add). They did a newer song that kept people riveted, a storytellingly little dirge which I assume was titled "My Sin" that whetted my appetite to come see them on their own terms. Later in the set, they invited the Celebrated Workingman's Mark Waldoch to join them on stage -- they didn't need him, but his John Hiatt-like voice and delivery did add yet another dimension to the rest of their set, and forced a mental note on me to catch HIS band next time they played as well.

While the "regifting" table was being set up in the back of the room (brilliant idea -- come bring your awful gifts to exchange -- and of course it was yet another way to raise $$$ for HTF), plenty of friends of Testa Rosa assembled on the stage to recreate the justification of Bob Geldolf's existence. That crowd included your intreprid reporter, and I'm embarassed to say I'd forgotten exactly how the song went, but it didn't matter. On stage I picked out plenty of characters who appear in this blog, including Mr Chris Tishler, Dave Deerlick (and many of the rest of the Deerlick), Bill Backes, plenty of us raising a glass to Rich "Atomic" Menning (who couldn't be coaxed into joining the musicians onstage) and other people I couldn't recognize behind those Foster Grants. It was fun! I have no clue how it sounded (when there's 20 people up on stage, Todd Rundgren himself wouldn't have been able to provide good monitor) but it was fun from the stage.

Afterwards, John Sieger followed with a good set of storytelling, upbeat rhythm and blues, but even he admitted it was difficult to come on stage after a giant all-infamous-star show. So he was good background while everybody milled about, exchanging unwanted gifts, buying each other holiday toasts, and marvelling about the foggy warm weather. If we can just get through December, indeed.

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