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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Betty--with Gloria Steinem--brings serious fun to City Winery holiday show

Betty's "Miracles Can Happen"

One of New York’s great holiday music traditions occurred again Monday night (Dec. 10) at City Winery, where Betty staged their much anticipated annual holiday show, as ever featuring a special appearance from Gloria Steinem.

But after a fun opening with the Betty trio of zany sisters Amy (vocals and electric cello) and Elizabeth (vocals and acoustic guitar) Ziff and Alyson Palmer (vocals and bass guitar) where they all appeared in the middle of the room singing a holiday greeting capped by The Ramones’ cop of the famous Freaks horror movie chant “We accept you! We accept you! One of us! One of us!,” the show took on an atypically dour note.

Amy, acknowledging that she usually talks about holiday depression and depressing holiday songs, proclaimed that that Amy was “a thing of the past.”

“That negativity,” she added, “it’s not really me at all.”

Rather, her former outlook was something that took over her “vessel,” and has since been replaced by one as sparkly as her skin-tight one-piece garb.

“It was the devil!” she said of Old Amy, then turned biblical.

“Now I say, ‘Devil get thee hence!,’” she said, then supplied such examples as stifling her boiling anger when being turned down for a table at a restaurant when it’s freezing cold out, or getting stuck in a long line when last-minute Christmas shopping—“one cash register for 750 people and the person in front of you on a cell phone talking about a serious medical problem, and the check-out woman smiles upside-down and says, ‘It’s the holidays!’ Devil get thee hence!”

So in an effort to help those in the SRO room “reclaim your spirit,” New Amy declared, “Miracles are among us!” and commenced the “true story” recounted in “Miracles Can Happen,” from Betty’s 2004 Snowbiz holiday album, in which she saw “Jesus in the parking lot/He saved a space just for me,” not to mention “the Virgin Mary at Jenny Craig/She said I lost some weight/she gave me her own special recipe for a fat-free fruit cake.”

After a perhaps pertinent discourse about the mating ritual of big cats in the wild (“It sounds uncomfortable to me!”), Amy did tie it together somewhat with a return to Snowbiz and “Office Holiday Party,” an “uncomfortable, traditional, ritualist [custom]--maybe it’s hormonal,” with lines like “The punch is disgusting/Someone threw up in my shoe.”

So much for New Amy.

Indeed, Palmer, herself turning to Snowbiz and its “Xmas Ain’t Coming This Year,” felt compelled to acknowledge “a lot of downer songs” in the set. But amidst the customary Betty cynicism—and usual bickering between the sisters flanking Palmer—there was the spiritual uplift that really is the core of the now 33-year-old threesome.

From Betty’s last album On The Rocks (2016), then, came “Remarkable (For Anne),” Anne being Anne Frank. She and her family, said Elizabeth, were denied a visa to America three times.

“Let’s not let that happen again!” said Elizabeth, then led the song, and its wrenching chorus, “What could have been should have never been taken away.”

Betty always showcases guests at their holiday shows, and this time they were singer-songwriter Mishti, and Palmer’s young son Lake, who mashed a recitation of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” with Betty’s “Penelope” from On the Rocks. And note must be made of Betty’s two terrific backing musicians, both borrowed from Cyndi Lauper’s band: guitarist Alex Nolan and drummer Caitlin Kalafus.

But it all led up to Gloria Steinem’s annual appearance, prefaced this time by Palmer’s recollection of the first time they met, many years ago in The Bottom Line’s dressing room, when Steinem walked in, and the Bettys were so thunderstruck that they could barely speak.

“Such an incredible human being,” said Elizabeth. “Gloria F***ing Steinem!”

And with that Steinem emerged, to recite the latest installment of her annual Top 10 Betty Holiday Show lists, a la past treats like “Why Jesus Christ was a Nicer Guy than The Bible Says.”

This year it was “Ten Top things I Want for Christmas.” Among them: Someone in the media to explain that immigrants are needed because of the lowest U.S. birthrate in recorded history—since we have the worst conditions for raising a family; a spine transplant for Mitch McConnell; a Washington, D.C. in which the only feel-good events aren’t funerals; that Melania Trump and a majority of the white women who voted for her husband remember Harriet Tubman’s claim that she could have freed thousands more slaves if only they knew they were slaves; and that Trump “not be remembered as president--which he is not--but a warning that showed us everything we needed to do.”

Steinem concluded by reciting Lorraine Hansberry--“who was born in even tougher times”--the quote describing herself as “a fool who believes that death is waste and love is sweet and that the earth turns and men change every day and that rivers run and that people wanna be better than they are and that flowers smell good and that I hurt terribly today, and that hurt is desperation and desperation is—energy and energy can move things....”

“How lucky we all are to be in this room together!” Elizabeth said when Steinem finished, and Betty finished with their memorable theme song from The L Word, “The Way That We Live.”

But Betty had also played a new song from a forthcoming new album, with guests, Elizabeth said, including “Bruce Springsteen and other people.” No doubt she was joking, but it really would be the perfect way for The Boss to follow up his huge Springsteen on Broadway hit.



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