by JK Clarke
Many years ago, I saw Tammy Faye Starlite perform with her group, the Mike Hunt Band (don’t say that name out loud) on New Year’s Eve at the Lakeside lounge on Avenue B. The band—a Rolling Stone cover/impersonation band with Starlite taking the part of Mick Jagger—was amazing. Perfect, full album covers and hilarious banter between songs. I always wanted to see them again, but the Lakeside Lounge closed and somehow in the ether of time I lost track of them. So, naturally, I was thrilled to see Tammy Faye’s name on a press release for Cabaret Marianne, part of the Thursday night supper club series this winter at Pangea in the East Village. This time around Starlite has moved along to one of Jagger’s paramours: the legendary Marianne Faithfull.
Marianne Faithfull was a model and folk singer who fell in with the Rolling Stones and fell out with heroin. She contributed some of the best known songs to the rock world, but her story is a tragic one, with years spent living as a junkie on the streets of London, to recovery and re-emergence in the film and music world.
Covering many of Faithfull’s biggest hits, Starlite swayed with her sharp, flawless band (who are culturally significant in their own right): on acoustic guitar was Faithfull’s longtime collaborator and famed songwriter Barry Reynolds; Eszter Balint, known for her iconic role in Jim Jarmusch’s seminal film Stranger Than Paradise and and a notable appearance on FX’s Louie last season, was the violinist; Richard Feridun on electric guitar; and David Dunton on piano. Between songs Starlite, as Faithfull (never once stepping out of character), traipsed through long, but hilarious ramblings about the past as well as contemporary issues: “welcome to your dystopia, present America—I know you’re missing the debate,” (which was airing simultaneously), she said as she adjusted her mic, stopping when an audience member’s phone rang. She told the embarrassed phone owner not to worry. “I’m not Patti LuPone.”
Starlite entered the venue as Marianne, wandering through the tables of the restaurant, wide-eyed in an apparent opiate haze, before mounting the stage and looking around, bewildered. But when she laid into the songs they were sharp and perfect, Faithfull in her heyday standing right before us. Opening after a couple amusing false starts (“wait, I fucked up”) with her (Faithfull’s) and David Court’s “Vagabond Ways” set the tone for the powerful, beautifully written, emotionally wrenching songs that Starlite/Faithfull mined for all of their pathos. The songs all outlined the few peaks and many valleys of Faithfull’s life, her stories in between painting them with even more sorrow (and absolute hilarity): “Masochism, that’s where I come from. That’s why I fucked Mick Jagger.” The songs were both expected—the haunting and beautiful “Sister Morphine,” (highlighted by Balin’s amazing violin work) which she wrote, but for which credit was given to Jagger and Keith Richards because of mismanagement and misogyny—and unexpected and revealing, “That Was the Day (Coke Came to Nashville),” which has no known attribution, but was probably by the great country singer-songwriter George Jones, who Faithfull/Starlite said, “only drank a six-pack a day” during his sobriety. There was even a Shel Silverstein song in the set, “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan,” a touching, pretty song about suicide.
One of the big highlights of the show was Faithfull’s hit, “Broken English,” (Faithfull, Barry Reynolds, Joe Mavety, Steve York), for which Starlite/Faithfull took off her black vinyl jacket/mini-skirt to reveal an appropriately inappropriate lacy black teddy, and during which Balin expertly picked her violin like a guitar. Painting a picture of run-down, hard times NYC in the early 70s, Reynolds and Faithfull’s pretty “Times Square,” reflected the mixture that Faithfull herself represented: beauty and decay, chaos and nostalgia.
Starlite/Faithfull closed the show perfectly with the Jagger/Richards ballad, “As Tears Go By,” There was Faithfull, “Doing things I used to do/They think are new,/I sit and watch as tears go by.” Sad and pretty; funny and thought provoking; haunting and powerful. Cabaret Marianne is an unforgettable trip into the world of a complex woman who’s had an incredible ride and left some great art for us along the way. Don’t miss this incredible show. Tonight’s the last night of this run.
Cabaret Marianne. Thursday nights at Pangea (178 Second Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets). Final performance tonight, Thursday, March 10. www.pangeanyc.com
Photos by Joe Hepworth