Ann Magnuson in Dallas, December, 2002
The Velvet Hammer Burlesque, November 14 and 21, 2002
Kristian Hoffman is known for his exceptional talent with Keys. His light fingers have gained him entrée into the most opulent homes in Hollywood. He also plays a mean piano - yes, even his piano is mean.
And what Kristian had to say after:
The Millionaire has changed the name of the combo from "The Maharajahs of Melody" to "The Millionaire and His Bad Bad Men" which is a relief, because we don't have to wear those ill-fitting gold lurex jiffy-pop styled turbans anymore. We all got to dress in more apt costumes to our characters; I was a trifle outlandish in my '40s gangster outfit complete with revolver and huge garish facial scar lovingly applied by the sensuously tactile fingers of Velvet Hammer make-up expert Melody.
The most eye-opening sequence came when gender-indeterminate 6 foot 6 inch Amazonian Black genius performance artist provocateur Vaginal Créme Davis came out in blackface so black his features were indistinguishable, with big red painted-on clown lips and wee emotive inwardly arched white eyebrows, wearing a top hat, a ratty coat of tails, white gloves, a white ostrich feather tail, a mini-skirt of puffy white chicken feathers, orange tights and over sized chicken feet, warbling in an atonal Magaret Dumont quaver "Pleeez don' beats me massah - aaahs yo' free range coon" to the tune of "Camptown Ladies," while high steppin' in a crazed Stepin Fetchit sashay down the catwalk, waving his white gloves in the air Dixie style.
The sold out audience of overdressed swing dance & lounge core revellers, used to less confrontational fare in their retro pubcrawls, were dumbfounded, not knowing if it was correct to laugh, groan or protest, as the 7 foot minstrel chicken bounded up to the wireless microphone and squealed with unrepentant, white toothed glee: "Aaah knowz it's wrong, but it feeeelz so gooood!" Quite a departure from the suddenly quaint and safe cultural touchstones of sleazy burlesque queen strippers and Las Vegas grind Esquivel-damaged selections. The uncomfortable silence afterward was telling, but telling what? I do admire someone who can shake folks out of their decade plundering comfort zone, even if that decade plunderer is me!
My high point of the evening came when I was invited to front the Millionaire's combo to sing the original theme from the Russ Meyer film Faster Pussycat! Kill, Kill! while the three original leads from the film - Tura Satana, Lori Williams, and Haji themselves go go danced wildly on the great stage! I really don't know if there's anyone in the world that can claim that particular distinction - and I was flattered and honored to get to do it! - and sang it pretty darn well, I might add! Faster Pussycat has been essential moviewatching, especially late at night after suitable post-gig binging, since (at least) 1975 - at least at my house.
I remember one particularly memorable evening after a Mumps Whisky-A-Go-Go gig, repairing to Brad Dunning's (then Mumps fan club president and longtime dear friend) apartment to watch it with the Go-Go's roadie Kent Smythe (who always brought his taxidermy fawn drinking with him and ordered it drinks, too!) and associated pals like then-Brian-Tristan-now-Kid-Congo-Powers. I had invited a really good looking romantic prospect down from Santa Barbara to see the gig - and right about the time Tura Satana (in the movie) is slamming her sports car into the retarded muscle hunk's thighs, my date turned to me and whispered "your friends are scary!" and left (at 2:00 a.m.!) to drive back to S.B. without me! It sure was easy to shock people back then!
And of course, we all listened ravenously and religiously to the Cramps' glorious cover of the same song over and over and over. So getting to sing it to the salacious gyrations of those amply endowed tigresses at the incredibly palatial '30s movie theatre "The Mayan" (with the opulent ancient-temple-by-way-of-Hollywood dream factory interior) was truly a gift.
Check out pictures at the Kristian & Friends picture page.
Fez Under Time, November 6, 2002
My old friend Patrick O'Leary (who had once appeared, nearly naked, painted silver, to be whirled about a tiny equity-waiver stage by performance artist Donald Krieger to the tune of one of my earliest incidental music compositions "Birth of a Monster") put up with my neurotic whining and put me up in his East Village apartment, finally practically ordering me, in the sweetest way possible, to get drunk or get out, and lighten up or shut up! Wise words from a reformed "theatre piece" dabbler, now a respected photo agent and inveterate scenester.
So the great day came, and I edged my way trembling like a wet alleycat down the stairs behind the Moroccan bar of the Time Café (across the street from Joe's Pub where I'd accompanied Ann Magnuson in a sold out residency a year before) down to the warm dark banquette lined Fez -- which shook like a 4.9 temblor every time the subway passed -- causing me to jump like the rube I knew I was.
This place was perfect for me! Did that ease my misgivings? No! Nor did I allow the fact that the soundman was wonderful, excited about the show (if you've ever met a soundman, you know that's enough to get someone thrown out of the union!) and Abby was there, and my old friend and bandmate, Sally Norvell, and the guitarist (John Spurney) and bass player (Matt Lindsey) Joe McGinty had so generously recruited for me, plus the friendly Michael Cerveris (Broadway star of Grease, Tommy, and Hedwig!). I'm not one to let reassuring facts get in the way of a total diva meltdown! I did a robotic impression of a sound check, crunching maniacally on a stomach burning succession of Savon generic "Hall's Honey-Lemon Throat Lozenges" knock-offs -- and rushed back to Patrick's to get into my clown suit, I mean purple velvet "lucky" jacket and satin ruffled shirt, and indulge in an agonized swallow of self-doubt.
Back in the dressing room -- showtime! I don't even recognize the first singer -- Dennis Driver! Wondering distractedly "why is that guy talking to me? Did I spill something? I thought I was allowed in the dressing room!" Meanwhile, Ann Magnuson was unexpectedly able to make the show, so she and Antony are working out an impromptu three-person arrangement of "Sex in Heaven," amid much bon homie and laughter. I sweat as I look at them -- who are they? -- and sat down -- in my white levis -- in somebody's recently spilled gin and tonic! Mercifully, like a mental patient to the booby hatch, I'm ushered to the stage, and primal instinct takes over.
The band starts a rollicking version of "Madison Avenue" and somehow I'm up there, standing at the mike next to Dennis Driver. What's that noise? Oh -- people are clapping and cheering! Dennis leaps into his part with athletic hip-gyrating aplomb, his tight brown '70s suit wriggling over his lithe body -- a cross between Dean Martin & Iggy Pop, with a soupçon of Top Cat, and a smokey Vegas croon to match. I lean back and forth idiotically, and I'm actually remembering to sing -- the song sounds great! Wait -- this is fun! Dennis' stagecraft breaks the ice; I think he's slaying 'em.
Suddenly I'm at the piano and Sally Norvell is on stage in her Patti Smith "horses" outfit of rumpled white Brooks Brothers button down & black tie. She's saying something nice; I'm looking at her casual '20s blonde bob and we're singing "Get It Right" and she owns it. Her delicious warm and full Sandie Shaw vocalizing is rapturous -- what a thrill! I'm lost in a dream state of sugar plum Ronettes and Jaynettes and Murmaids! But wait --
Here's Joe McGinty! His new shorter hair cut makes him look almost disturbingly boyish, as does his Tex Avery blush when I introduce him by saying how much I love his band "Baby Steps." His voice hovers on the edge of plaintive uncertainty -- perfect for my old doubter's battle cry "Anyone But You."
I introduce "Scarecrow" with a time tested quote from Joni Mitchell -- saying how she is obviously the standard by which all other songwriters are measured -- her insight into the human condition so acute, her poetic detailings of emotional foibles & missed connections so articulate and moving, her melodies seeming to flow from some primal crystaline brook in Eden -- and then I read "I think there's a lack of romance in everything today. Women are being misguided. The people who are guiding them in fashion are homosexual, therefore you get fashions that are extremely masculine, either to make a woman look foolish or to make it easier for men to look like women!" from "Joni Mitchell" (1976). When our friends think of us with such woefully underinformed, patently prejudiced lack of empathy -- our most rarified gifted friends -- "Scarecrow" is not a surprise -- it's a tragic inevitability! Then Michael Cerveris comes to sing it with me with a voice he'd only hinted at in the two minutes I'd shared with him at soundcheck. His seasoned theatrical panache, his high but somehow husky voice, his impish and sweetly handsome face, his skilled but open manner -- all make the song soar, undeterred by the long shadow of Rufus' definitive imprint, and the song goes to new vulnerable places.
Then Abby Travis is up, having used some of her frequest flyer miles to make her east coast birthday visit coincide with my show -- the saintly little minx! She was wearing the outlandish mermaid tail made of lycra, with thousands of guitar picks for scales, she'd had designed for Professor Vaginal Davis' "Platinum Oasis" -- a delightfully questionable festival of gender abusing sexual dioramas, diffident if inebriated hand waving by ye olde Punque Roque Royalty (i.e. Exene, Alice Bag), poolside beauty contests usually derailed by the mesmerizing spiral buttock tattoos Ron Athey is always displaying, synchronized swimming by porn stars and speed addicts, and chanteuserie by the likes of our own Ms. Travis, all in a decrepit '50s by-the-hour hustler hotel, in the Chandleresque seedy wastes of Western Avenue.
Anyway, at the Fez Abby didn't attempt the piano mounting calisthenics of her Derby performance, because the fish tail seemed to have ideas of its own, and kept swimming resolutely floorward. In the ensuing struggle for sartorial preeminence, the happy band was sometimes treated to a comely pale moonshaped distraction that was not a concentration aid!
Michael C. returned for "Just In Time" and was just wonderful, as before, which prompted me to begin nursing a rather untoward schoolboy crush, which is hard for someone my age. Then I managed a solo turn on "Revert To Type," giving the band a break while my mind went into temporary lobotomy mode, overloaded from the glitter just past and the glitter yet to come.
Then my old friend and fellow songwriter -- who maddeningly never puts out CD's -- Phillip Shelley came out to sing "Palace of Corn." He's got one of the great pop voices, a sort of male Leslie Gore, with the bright trebly tone like an organ stop on "reeds" and the same Gore-style affecting little tremolo bookending phrases. At rehearsal he'd shone in full Pitneyesque glory, but by tonight the dreaded cold had struck (the universal maleficent 3 week prostration followed, usually, by ear infections) and he soldiered valiantly with only the hint of a raspy croak, and sounded great -- but the audience didn't get to hear quite the Phil Spector-ready epiphany I've been lucky enough to witness.
I was aware of the arresting qualities of Antony's ethereal voice, having been introduced to him by my friend Josef Astor on an earlier NYC visit. He decided to see how red he could make my face by introducing "Sex In Heaven" with a florid tale about himself, as a child in the character-free suburbs of San Jose, being provided with his only germs of solace by his Klaus Nomi records, then he launched into an authoritative version of my old chestnut "After the Fall" over the opening chords. I was able to hide my blushing appreciaton behind the parlor grand, but was nakedly unprepared for the otherworldly gorgeousness of this Bryan Ferry-crossed-with-God visits-the-Amazons-of-Mars voice emerging from this pork pie hatted, plaid scarfed, Oliver Twist garbed 6-foot-and-change fellow with the light blonde hair and the round unassuming face. The effect was transporting! Truly the revelation of the evening. Ann of course kept right up with her skilled vivacity, and with her perfect petite figure and French schoolgirl outfit she and Antony made quite a couple of outsize personalities. The Ann-Tony follies!
Then Wendy Ip, who has wowed L.A.'s IPO set 2 years running, and who generously provided keyboard support, lent some youthful vigor to the proceedings with a spirited "Die For Cute."
Everyone was so great it was almost an anticlimax when I grabbed the cowbell to lead the band in a raucous vesion of "Crocodile Tears." But the audience was so seduced by the parade of genuinely luminous luminaries, they responded with teen Beatle screams anyway.
Then everyone who had performed crowded the tiny stage, for an ungainly, unrehearsed, and almost unrecognizable "Moonage Daydream" whose only excuse was its spontaneity, the mudwrestle-type mike grabbing showboating of these seeming professionals, Ann's skill in making it seem like we actually knew the song, and the eternal truth that a day without Bowie is like day without sunshine.
The audience, made up of equal parts of friends from various decades -- hi Trey! hi Josef! hi Janie! hi Robert! hi Peter! hi Joanne! hi David! -- and shockingly enthusiastic newcomers, was forgiving enough to allow -- no! dare I say? -- demand! -- a 2nd encore.
Having nothing prepared, it took Antony to literally push me onto the stage -- repeating the seasoned breathy mantra into my ear: "Give them something heartbreaking! Leave them with a weeper!" So I braved my first live rendition of "Out of the Habit" which I seemed to remember through my blind panic. And, after the charitable applause died down, several audience members said it made them cry! That remark is like giving nuclear arms to a rogue state -- I was in heaven!
What a supreme gift the evening was. I can't thank Joe McGinty enough for recruiting John Spurney on guitar. His playing was so extraordinary my chills during his solo on "Scarecrow" almost made me stop playing. And Matt Lindsey -- on bass -- who made every song bound confidently out of the starting gate -- with Joe & Wendy on a bed of musical silver clouds.
Everyone involved gave the appearance they were proud and excited to play my songs with me -- that was the biggest gift of all! To be in a group of warm, accepting, uniquely skilled artists and visionaries -- to tempt the fates by calling that our community -- to have an incredible ridiculous carnival party and call that "work" -- for an irredeemable whiner, whose greatest life skill is complaining, I, at last, am dumbstruck.
The Knitting Factory, September 20, 2002
The Knitting Factory show was fantastic with a very warm and supportive crowd - I personally was punk-rock adjacent with unaccustomed sloppiness but the audience good-vibed me through it. Carolyn Edwards was angelic as ever, Kristi Callan gorgeous, Steve Stanley took "Palace of Corn" to new harmonic heights and Jeff MacGregor (of the Solipsistics) was chill inspiring in the falsetto coda of "Scarecrow."
Backstage was abuzz because Brian Wilson was there to sing with the Wondermints (as well as 60's soulful stylist Evie Sands), the comforting capability of Pete Magdaleno at the board made us all feel safe and cared for - Jonathan and Crystal Ann Lea enthused shamelessly, rock hobnobbing took place with Mike Randle & Rusty Squeezebox (of Baby Lemonade) and Andrew (Sandoval - A Beautiful Story), and I had a reserved seat with Pat, Delilah and Michele Loud to watch the rest of the show with.
California Plaza, August 16, 2002 - piano player for El Vez
The El Vez show at California Plaza on Aug. 16th was fantastic. It's a fantastic modernist plaza with views overlooking the whole of downtown - very Star Trek. The stage is situated behind a huge lake with papyrus and water lilies - and a runway that goes out over the water. Behind the band are colorfully lit dancing waters - it's quite a spectacle.
El Vez had about eight El-Vette backing singers, a horn section and the usual band - I got to play a parlor grand piano, and a group of about 50 Latina 15-year-olds in beautiful prom gowns did promenade across the stage at certain moments when El Vez did "Orale" (his gospelly version of "Oh Happy Day") and the girls' voices soared above the lovely melody. I got goosebumps it was so beautiful - which is not what you often expect from a slick glitzy glitter & vinyl costume change Sammy Davis type Vegas extravaganza. There were about 2000 people there - it was insane!
Amoeba Records, August 15, 2002
The Amoeba Records in-store was a smashing success, with guest performances by my dear friend Carolyn Edwards, her boyfriend Steve Stanley (whose band, "the Now People" has a CD out soon) - they're known, to their mild embarrassment, as "Pop's Cutest Couple" - John Easdale, Ann Magnuson, and El Vez - who showed up wearing a "Hoffman" emblazoned skin tight nipple revealing sports t-shirt), and the ever fabulous Abby Travis in a Modesty Blaise style psychedelic swirl top and motorcycle cap. Website correspondents were there in the front - Joolz brought her daughter Mercedes who had me sign her arm (!) for which pleasure I was quite honored.
Amoeba Records is as big as an airplane hanger and mercilessly lit with invasive fluorescent lights, and I was in fear that the clacking of shoppers rooting through jewel cases would overwhelm the music - but the sizable crowd was warm, festive, and attentive, and my CD's flew off the big display rack like nobody's business.
Celebrity sightings included Jon Brion, Dave Foley, assorted El Vettes, the delightful Andrew Sandoval, the steadfast Jonathan Lea, the Wondermints' own Nick Walusko, Pat and Michele Loud, and my sister Nina.