By Andrew Poretz . . .
BETTY is a popular “alternative rock” group that has performed together since the late 1980s. They first came to my attention from their frequent appearances at The Lineup with Susie Mosher at Birdland Theater. Two of the three front women, Elizabeth and Amy Ziff, are sisters, and they flanked the lead singer, the Amazonian (6’2”) Alyson Palmer. BETTY wrote and performed the theme songs for a number of television shows, notably Real Sex and The L Word. Known for their activist stances on and off the stage, the feminist icon Gloria Steinem has spoken annually at their holiday show for seventeen years.
The show at the massive City Winery complex was packed, with a solid majority of the cavernous main room’s 350 seats sold. The show could not have happened at a better time, as the latest Covid surge was not yet upon us. In the days after this show, the Winery updated its protocol to require a negative Covid test in addition to proof of vaccination. The band performed over a dozen songs, with all but a few written by BETTY.
There were several terrific guest performers in tonight’s show, notably Aria Nadège who kicked off the show with “This Christmas,” and “Gracie & Rachel,” who performed “Santa BETTY” (a spoof of “Santa Baby”) and “Gucci.”
BETTY’s greatest appeal is in their glorious three-part harmonies, often a capella. The women can all play instruments – Elizabeth Ziff on acoustic guitar, Alyson Palmer on bass and electric guitar, and Amy Ziff on electric cello – though for any given song they might instead use tracks (with Elizabeth Ziff lining them up on an onstage device), their two backup musicians (Tony Salvatore on electric guitar and Ted “Mino” Gori on drums, or any combination, which made for an interesting and unpredictable set of excellent music.
The band was off to a fine start with “Have a Holly Jollypocalypse!,” a fun homage to “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” with a tight three-part harmony. “Dreidel Jingle” was a short, entirely a capella piece that set up a rocking “Miracles Can Happen” with the full band.
BETTY used tracks instead of the band on “Did U Tell Her,” a song with great energy and a “Go-Gos” kind of vibe. “Xmas Ain’t Coming This Year” was a kind of anti-holiday anthem with the feel of a somewhat nihilistic Beatles Christmas record.
On “Saylor,” which Amy Ziff wrote for her daughter, she played her cello like a bass. “Saylor and I went down to the creek. And I made a promise,” she sang.
Elizabeth Ziff introduced their annual guest, Gloria Steinem, in her only appearance of this tour. At 87, Ms. Steinem still exudes the powerful presence that has made her a feminist icon for half a century. She acknowledged her lack of performing talent, and then read a poem to the enthralled audience, as the band proudly looked on.
“Kissing You,” a punk rocker, had an unexpected twist on the promising title:
I like the stories you tell me
I like the way you think
I like the way you spend money
I like the beer you drink
I don’t like
I don’t like
I don’t like
I don’t like
I don’t like kissing you
All the guests returned for a lovely “Those Were the Days” (Boris Fomin; English lyrics by Gene Raskin). Audience participation on the chorus was asked for and received. In the holiday spirit, “elves” appeared throughout the room handing out Hershey kisses to anyone who wanted them. In a night full of musical kisses, this was a fine capper.
Photographs: Kathy Valentine
Elizabeth Ziff (vocals, guitar, backing tracks)
Alyson Palmer (vocals, bass, guitar)
Amy Ziff (vocals, cello)
Tony Salvatore (electric guitar)
Ted “Mino” Gori (drums)
Aria Nadège (“This Christmas”) (Introduced by:
Reverend Dr. Jacqueline Lewis, author of “Fierce Love”
Gracie & Rachel (“Santa BETTY” and “Gucci”)
Very special holiday guest: Gloria Steinem
December 15, 2021
25 Eleventh Avenue at Hudson River Park
New York, NY