Hope You Had a Merry Effing Christmas

On the holiday-concert trail with Ronnie Spector, Darlene Love, and . . . Twisted Sister

I can't even describe the sight of Dee Snider in a Santa suit to you people. It defies language. Here: Tammy Faye Baker half-disgorged by a 900-pound python. On Christmas. That's as good as it gets. And for a few savory moments Thursday night, Dee, too, was as good as it got, shrill and crass and defiant and triumphantly hideous, commanding a legion of leather-draped fist-pumping uncouth types from the Irving/Fillmore stage, leading Twisted Sister through a blaring, ribald version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

It's been that kind of week. We'll get back to Dee in a minute.

The Kitsch
We are touring Christmas shows, and we begin with Ronnie Spector, who is much easier to describe when clad in a Santa suit: She looks like a pirate. A jovial pirate. It's Sunday night at B.B. King's, and at my table three kind ladies swirl martinis and announce that they do Ronnie's holiday bash every year—"trashy fun," they call it. Ronnie, to her infinite credit, is still huge of voice and unspeakably enormous of hair—it cascades around her in a mesmerizing, geometrically precise waterfall, as solid and unyielding as Rick Moranis's Lord Helmet getup in Spaceballs. (No reference ever made to Spaceballs in this column is intended as an insult.) "It's Christmastime . . . Passover . . . Hanukkah . . . I love all of 'em," Ronnie says; "You still got it, Ronnie!" hoots some lovestruck dude in the crowd.

Dee Snider, slurring with sophistication
photo: David Atlas
Dee Snider, slurring with sophistication

She actually does, sometimes— that precocious coo, vulnerable but bombastic, wraps splendidly around both "Frosty the Snowman" and "Be My Baby." In a truly awkward year to have the last name "Spector," Ronnie limits her memory-lane patter to simple dates: "1965!" she exclaims, and her nine-piece band launches into "Walking in the Rain." She even mixes in Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black"; evidently Amy has claimed in interviews that she wants to be like Ronnie. (Let's hope she gets the stay alive part right, at least.) But alas, the band looks a little bored, and Ronnie spends a lot of time sitting on the kick drum, catching her breath. Worse yet, for a long while a weird neon snowman is the only Christmas accoutrement—it's only the encore wherein Ronnie emerges in all her pirate Santa splendor, thundering through "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" and John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)." One of the martini ladies whispers that this is as good as Ronnie's sounded, and looked, in years—past shows might have made you "run out the door screaming." Her friends add that the crowd is more sophisticated than usual also—no Santa hats or other lowbrow fare.

I actually wouldn't mind a little aesthetic yuletide slumming, but we have to go up before we can go back down.

The Class
Darlene Love, a luxurious vision on the opulent Jazz at Lincoln Center stage the following night, dares to actually speak the dreaded S-word. "Mr. Spector," she calls him. "We didn't get any royalties, but that's all right," she recalls of her halcyon Phil years, then tears into (1962!) "He's Sure the Boy I Love" and (1963!) "Wait Til' My Bobby Gets Home." And the comparison to Ronnie's not really fair here—this is a majestic hall, and Darlene's got an orchestral/choral platoon behind her (even the guy banging tambourines is in a tux), but both "Boy" and "Bobby" sound incredible, crushing avalanches of teenage lust bearing down with gospel fervor. Darlene is an old pro—17 years at this holiday-show racket, though alas, she didn't get to serenade Letterman with "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" this year—with the range to bounce from "River Deep–Mountain High" to Hairspray's "I Know Where I've Been." She's got the Christmas tree and the flashy jewelry and the giggling, dancing kids and the parade of cheery special guests—Dolores "LaLa" Brooks, another Spector survivor, bounds out in a silver catsuit and majestic Afro to rumble through "Da Doo Ron Ron." Fabulous show. But again, a touch too much sophistication. The ideal Christmas show has a whiff of wood-panel basement tackiness; Darlene clamps down on "Frosty the Snowman" and makes it sound like Shakespeare. Ideally, we're looking for a bit more bite, more edge . . . someone more along the lines of . . .

The Trash
Dee Snider. Yes. Twisted Sister has a Christmas album. A Twisted Christmas. Came out last year. There are worse ways to spend 45 minutes of your life. They even transform "The Twelve Days of Christmas" into "Heavy Metal Christmas": Eight pentagrams, four quarts of Jack, and a tattoo of Ozzy. You could crack plenty of I Love the 80s jokes here: Dee spends a lotta time onstage Thursday night complaining about how small the stage and the dressing room are, and I spy a cane raised up amid all those fists during "I Wanna Rock." But these dudes seem remarkably at peace with their place in the world. "We're the Transvestite Siberian Orchestra!" the guitarist hoots—that's actually really funny. Candy canes hang from the speakers; a bright bow adorns each Marshall stack. Jesus is born.

This show is preposterous. I can't figure out if the fantastically inebriated Twisted Sister faithful gathered here is into cock-rock Christmas carols or not: They seem amused enough when the drummer kicks off the cowbell-heavy beat to "We're Not Gonna Take It," only Dee howls out "O Come All Ye Faithful" instead. But they obviously prefer plain ol' "We're Not Gonna Take It." This approach creates some staggering contrasts, though: "White Christmas" with dueling guitar solos, or a deep cut like "Wake Up the Sleeping Giant" segueing seamlessly into "I Saw Mommy Fellating Santa Claus." Mr. Snider, see, brings a touch more sophistication to the band's raunchy third-grade antics—at least he uses the word fellating. (He also says effing instead of fucking, e.g. "Twisted Effing Sister," which is polite, I guess.) Dee runs backstage during every solo, and indeed during any instrumental break that lasts longer than seven seconds; I surmise that he's playing chess with his roadie, who is dressed as an elf and is nearly de-pantsed during the encore.

In an affecting gesture, Twisted Sister dedicates "I'll Be Home for Christmas" (in full power-ballad splendor) to the troops, whether you support the war or not; in a less affecting gesture, this segues into their own "Burn in Hell." Ah, well, they're on a roll. The show climaxes with (1984!) "S.M.F.," and on this night, our thirst for cheeseball holiday revelry finally sated, there can be no doubt what that stands for: Santa, Mother Effer.

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