BETTY, with Gloria Steinem, ushers in the holidays at New York's Cutting Room
BETTY at The Cutting Room, Dec. 8, 2019
With City Winery in transition to a new location, BETTY’s annual holiday show took place Dec. 8, under the Winery’s auspices, at the packed Cutting Room.
More significantly, brilliantly wacky Amy Ziff (cello), who with sister Elizabeth Ziff (guitar) and Alyson Palmer (bass) have been the beloved musical/political trio since the mid-1980s, continued last year’s complete turnaround in holiday demeanor—from total negative to apparent positive.
“I’m just an ordinary rock star trying to talk about holiday miracles,” Amy said, imploring the SRO room to “identify the miracles” of the season—much as she did at last year’s holiday show. In fact, she reprised her motto from last year—“Devil, get thee hence!”—in casting out all despair. This, of course, yielded “Miracles Can Happen” from BETTY’s 2004 Snowbiz holiday album, in which, among other things, she witnessed “Jesus in the parking lot--he saved a space just for me.”
But in case the Cutting Room crowd was being lulled into a false sense of holiday cheer, sister Elizabeth was there for a much-needed reality check. The holidays, she said, “are a weird time for everybody [and] super-weird for Jews.”
Noting that antisemitism and hate crimes are up, Elizabeth related that a bill introduced in Congress 80 years ago (the Wagner-Rogers Bill), that would have duplicated the U.K.’s Kindertransport rescue effort--which saved nearly 10,000 mostly Jewish children from Nazi Germany and occupied countries nine months before World War II and placed them in British foster homes--failed to pass due to heavy opposition.
Urging open borders, she invoked the famous adage about Nazi appeasement, “First they came for the Jews...”—prompting her sister to reply, “I try to keep things positive and Elizabeth has to talk about the Holocaust!”
Ever bickering, Elizabeth responded: “I didn’t say ‘Holocaust’”—which was technically true—and then joined the two others in “Remarkable (For Anne),” the gripping song inspired by Anne Frank from BETTY’s 2016 On the Rocks album.
Returning to holiday fare, BETTY (instrumentally supported on drums by Caitlin Kalafus and guitar by Mishti) sang their Christmas faves “Holiday Office Party” (where drunken revelers puke in sober co-workers’ shoes), “Xmas Ain’t Coming This Year,” and the Hanukkah/Christmas song mashup “Dreidle Jingle Fiasco”—all from Snowbiz.
“Let It Snow” was likewise inventive and sung to Palmer’s “Another One Bites the Dust” bass line, while Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice” was rhythmically reimagined--and Petula Clark’s classic “Downtown” was covered a cappella.
In keeping with BETTY holiday show tradition, Gloria Steinem was the most special guest.
“I wish she were my mother and lover at the same time!” said Elizabeth Ziff by way of introduction. “She changed the world! She is...THE Gloria Steinem!”
Also in keeping with BETTY holiday show tradition, Steinem first questioned her role on stage, being that she neither sings nor plays. She then showed why she was there, not with her regular Top 10 list relating to an intriguing Christmas topic (one year it was “10 Top Reasons Why Jesus is a Nicer Guy Than You Think”), but via a brief discourse in her discovery that laughter is “the only free emotion.”
Laughter, Steinem explained, cannot be compelled.
“We can be forced to fear, compelled to love,” she said, and cited the Stockholm syndrome as an example of an emotion that can be summoned by circumstance. But laughter “has no tactical purpose,” she maintained, and is “the ultimate proof of our humanity.”
Once again, then, BETTY’s holiday show offered ultimate proof of that ultimate proof. It ended with “Hanukkah, Oh, Hanukkah,” Palmer playing it on melodica, with former BETTY guitarist Tony Salvatore joining in, as did ubiquitous New York guitarist Alex Nolan. Elizabeth tossed chocolate Hanukkah gelt coins into the audiences, capping the group’s nondenominational outreach.
BETTY performs "Dreidle Jingle Fiasco" during their 2012 holiday show