Sketchfest Review: An Evening With Ann Magnuson at Yoshi’s – Oakland, 1/24/12

by Dakin Hardwick on January 28, 2012

Photo By John Bertram

Sketchfest brought made it’s way to Oakland for the first time. The performer that brought the fest across the incredibly long bridge was legendary performance artist Ann Magnuson, debuting her new show,  A Salon des Beaux Arts for the Fin du Monde 2012. SpinningPlatters were lucky to be able to enjoy this intimate show at Oakland’s legendary jazz club/Japanese restaurant Yoshi’s.

Magnuson came onstage wearing a stunning Victorian-era dress, and sang Skeeter Davis’ “The End Of The World.” She was backed by the solid combo of pianist and band leader Kristian Hoffman and drummer Joseph Berardi. The years have done nothing to diminish the quality of her voice, and it was a fine interpretation of the song.

In classic cabaret tradition, the band vamped out portions of the song while she introduced the concept behind the show. She was, as expected, paying tribute to the end of the world. She discussed the various different cultural theories behind the world’s demise, included a few, rather pointed jabs at the film Melancholia.  (“Oh No! RUN! The planet Melancholia is coming!) Although, the main reason we are all thinking end times these days is the Mayan calendar, which points to the end days as being about ten months away. Bringing us to a laugh out loud parody of David Bowie’s “Five Years,” recast as “Ten Months.” It’s amazing how a tiny shift in lyrics can totally change the premise of song.

After Bowie cover, I got to experience the single most embarrassing moment of my show going career. Magnuson decided that she need some assistance in removing her dress. And she asked me. Now, I’ve assisted in the removal of my fair share of dresses in my day. I honestly thought I knew what I was doing. I successfully unzipped her dress, not realizing that there was a button holding the dress together. What did this mean in the long run? She had somebody to mock throughout the entire show. It had to be somebody, and I’m glad it was me. She spent the next portion of the set in a corset, and she looked fabulous. She has a better body than most woman half her age, and laid out an especially pointed jab about Madonna’s upcoming Super Bowl performance, proclaiming that “once you’ve seen one woman in her 50’s prance around in a corset, you’ve seen them all.”  This brought us to her homage to the revered 80’s experimental rock band Bongwater. She performed a medley of classic Bongwater tracks that got the crowd amazingly excited. Or course, since you weren’t there, you want to know what she played.

Bongwater Medley

Talent Is A Vampire

Power Of Pussy

Obscene and Pornographic Art

Nick Cave Dolls

The next set of songs sort of moved away from the theme of the evening. She decided to explore the religious elements of our lives, and what we think of when we are moving towards the end of our days. She explored the Christian side of our demise with Bessie Smith’s “Cemetery Blues,” (wearing a blue nightgown) as well as a piece by her pianist that was laugh out loud hysterical called “Sex In Heaven.” (I can’t give away any punchlines. Just listen to the song.) Equally as funny was the Magnuson original mambo “Sex With The Devil,” complete with a large assortment of boas being flung.

The show was definitely silly. She only veered from the high energy, silly tales of our demise once. She sang the Harry James’ classic “It’s Been A Long Time” in tribute to her brother, who passed away from AIDS related complications in 1998. As a good performer, she didn’t allow the sentimentality to last too long. Instead she told the tale of her time spend as an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer groupie. And she told it to the tune of Next by Jacques Brel. Nothing like making a dirty song seem a bit bit creepy, too!

She closed the show with a pair of apocalyptic rock songs from the 60’s: “The End” by the Doors (when she made it through the bit about things she would do with her mother and father? It made Morrison look like a prude) and The Rolling Stone’s “Sympathy With The Devil.” The former was dedicated to the Occupy Oakland movement, which is still going strong, despite popular belief.

She returned with an encore of “I Remember You.” It was a joyful evening of classic entertainment. A phenomenal show by a legendary performer.



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