Betty's Christmas show brightens a dark horizon
It's become the predictable 2016 year-end concert euphemism: The artist, after the first song, greets the audience with, "What a year!" Except at City Winery Monday night, Betty's Amy Ziff added, "And just when you think it can't get any worse, it's the holiday season!"
And so began the ever wonderful, politically potent female pop trio's annual holiday show, though this one, for obvious reasons, was even edgier than usual. Still, the unstoppable threesome (vocalist-cellist Ziff, her sister Elizabeth Ziff on vocals and guitar, and vocalist-bassist Alyson Palmer) bravely soldiered on, after a couple songs by special guest/opener Kaki King.
"If the sky is falling, we play on!" Amy explained, "because that's our job!" Speaking of jobs, the set included heartwarming Betty holiday favorites like "Holiday Office Party Blues" ("The punch is disgusting/Someone threw up on my shirt") and "Miracles Can Happen" ("I saw Baby Jesus in the parking lot"), with traditional sisterly bickering between the Ziffs (much to Amy's annoyance, Elizabeth kept calling her sister, who was garbed in a full sparkling silver body suit, "Frosty") perhaps indicating the reason for the title of their just-released new album Betty On the Rocks.
Rocks notwithstanding, Betty performed several new songs, some from the new album, including "You Could Be My Jerusalem," introduced as "a prayer for peace." Then again, as suggested by another Betty Christmas staple title, "Christmas Ain't Coming This Year."
Leading into the latter, Palmer noted that she hadn't observed "so much sorrow and anguish" in 15 years—9-11, 2001—due to 11-9 of this year—the day after the election.
"But there was such compassion in the vulnerability and pain," she said, then proclaimed that in reality, "the glass ceiling was shattered."
"We actually elected a woman f**king president!" said Palmer, passionately speaking of the popular vote. "We did it. Don't let them tell you anything else."
Then she declared: "This community stands for equality, diversity and tolerance." With that Betty performed "Rise," the song they wrote in response to the One Billion Rising campaign to end violence against women, after which that they once again brought out perennial holiday show guest Gloria Steinem.
Last year Steinem offered "The 10 Top Things I Want for Christmas" (previous Betty Christmas show lists have included "10 Top Reasons Why Jesus Was a Nicer Guy Than You Think" and "10 Top Places to Occupy"), foremost among them "an abject apology from Donald Trump for being among other things, a birther, anti-immigrant, builder of buildings that look like big Dunhill cigarette lighters [and] rating women as no longer '10's when he himself has never been a 'one'"). She also ominously remembered that Hitler was democratically elected with low voter turnout.
"This is sort of a tough year for 'Top 10 anything,'" Steinem noted. "We have to keep looking to each other--and not up at that unspeakable event and feel bad."
Echoing Palmer, Steinem added, "Remember, we elected one African-American president, and one female president. But it's just the beginning: You and I must become the wind."
She likened the next few years to the most dangerous time for an abused woman—the two weeks immediately following her leaving a battering partner.
"This country is at the point of escaping control," Steinem said, "and it's a time of great danger where we have to take care of each other and understand how great the danger is."
America, she noted, "is about to become a nation of color, with a big minority of people fearing that they're losing their place in the hierarchy and will be treated by others the way they treated others."
But "we can't go back there," she said, much as a battered woman can't go back home. "Maybe--just maybe—we're about to be free!"
Steinem alerted the audience to the Boycott Trump app that's available for mobile devices, that provides a database of businesses with a connection to Trump. And she urged all to remember that the Constitution begins with "We the People" and not "I the President."
She also lauded Betty for their continuing efforts on behalf of their BETTY Effect organization, which uses music and performance techniques in helping women and girls worldwide communicate and connect for personal power, social progress and peace. To this end, Betty, just back from performing in Israel, is set to return there next year for a women's music festival.
"Don't you feel a little bit more safe?" asked Palmer after Steinem finished. The show ended with Betty's great cover of Foreigner's "Cold as Ice," and a new song about "owning your weight during the holidays," according to Amy, who asserted that just like a bell ringing is said to be the sound of an angel getting its wings, so, too, is the sound of a candy wrapper crumpling.
There was something safe in that, for sure: Betty's enduring commitment to community—and sense of humor.
"We're all together, and that's important," concluded Palmer, and attendees surely left inspired, if not wholly upbeat over the rapidly encroaching 2017.