Saturday, December 3, 2011

[31 Holi-Days #3] Erin McKeown: "Children laughing, 'til I kick them"

What better way to kick off my Manhattan Christmas events for the year than with an anti-holiday show?   A little weird, I admit, but that's timing for you: Rhea, my beloved fiancée, is a big fan of Erin McKeown.  Ms. McKeown, a fine singer-songwriter in her normal, more serious guise, is presenting a series of what she's calling "anti-holiday shows".  That's the polite title: the album, from which the shows stem, is entitled F*ck That! Erin McKeown's Anti-Holiday Album.  The album, incidentally, is hilarious, and I'd recommend it to anybody not offended by its title and concept.

As part of the live performances of her Scrooge Revue, McKeown recruits a handful of audience members in advance to be part of her chorus of "cranky carolers."  This is where Rhea comes in; being the natural performer that she is, she jumped at the chance to get on stage with one of her favorite musicians.  One of McKeown's requirements for performance: find an awful, cheesy Christmas sweater to wear.  This led to the following exchange with one of our table-mates at Joe's Pub:

[Dude:] Hey, I think I was bidding against you for that one on eBay.
[Rhea:] Um, yeah, maybe.

Yeah, maybe, my achin' ass.  Rhea, being Westchester County's preeminent children's musician and an incurable cheeseball at heart simply opened up her closet et voila.  And that's why I'm really proud of her for doing this: a few years ago, she likely would not have.  Rhea's not anti-holiday at all; she loves all good-hearted, cute things.  A few years back, the subject matter of McKeown's presentation would have dissuaded her: "I just can't sing that, because it's not what I would have written."  To come from that to "But you know what?  The material is funny and clever, and I get to perform on stage with one my favorites" is a brave, remarkable personal journey to have taken, and I couldn't have been more proud of her for taking that stage and doing a great job of it.  Cue pictures:
Rhea, center in black sweater and Santa cap, singing her heart out

Erin McKeown, who was much more in-focus in real life.  Stupid camera.

I haven't gone into much detail about McKeown's songs or presentation on purpose: this needs to be experienced first-hand, either on stage or album, to be fully appreciated.  Rhea wouldn't let me listen to the songs beforehand, and as frustrating as it was she was 100% correct: the show was easily twice as fun given that I didn't know the punch lines.  This is the second time I've seen McKeown with Rhea: the first was last year, a show in which she performed her debut album, Distillation, in its entirety.  Obviously, the tenor and presentation of the two performances couldn't have been more different, but I was thoroughly impressed with her both times.  If you're looking for a female singer-songwriter that won't have you suffering from Jewel McLachlan cavities, look no further.

Clearly, Fuck That! isn't for everybody: the humorless and narrow-minded need not apply.  The sort of right-wingers who think gay folks shouldn't have equal rights should probably steer clear as well: "It's a Very Queer Christmas" is as funny about that subject as the need for its existence in 2011 is sad.  If, however, you're as sick of the season as McKeown is or, like me, you're just somebody who appreciates an intelligent, clever, caustic laugh, it's a steal at only $10.  Grab your credit cards and head this way.

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