Feinstein’s at the Nikko, San Francisco, CA, April 14, 2016
Reviewed by Steve Murray for Cabaret Scenes
Storm Large, as her name suggests, is a larger than life personality: playwright, actor, musician, author and songwriter. Her live performances, full of hilarious commentaries on everything from politics to her in-your-face life philosophies, are becoming legendary. Her cult status, gleaned from years in the San Francisco punk scene to her stint with Pink Martini and her stage and symphony work, may be a thing of the past as she garners increasingly critical and commercial acclaim.
Large is a peculiar creature though, straddling a creaky bridge between cabaret and rock. She is most certainly a musical auteur. She so owns each song that it becomes a living breathing part of her psyche. Live, she is a rebel, suffering no fools and not pulling any punches. Going rogue from her scripted banter, Large was demonstratively blue this night, highlighted by her five-minute intro to her hook-laden ode to the vagina, “Eight Miles Wide.” Musing on the vernacular for male and female body parts, Large says whatever pops into her devious mind and her fans eat it up. She’s shockingly frank, but not pretentious in any way. It’s who the woman is and it’s disarmingly refreshing.
Opening with the sonic ballad “Dear Ones,” Large’s searing and powerful vocals make you take notice and listen to her every word. Her take on Cole Porter’s lascivious lyrics to “It’s All Right with Me” is modernized with some rocking guitar work by Scott Weddle. Two numbers feature Spanish lyrics: “N.I.B.,” originally performed by Black Sabbath, and a new song, “Piensa.” Her take on a marriage equality theme song “Stand Up for Me” is written from love’s perspective. We always seek love, but what does love ask of us? She sings, and we’re soothed by the thought.
A strong songwriter, Large performed: “Formaldehyde,” a searing indictment of obsessive consumerism and self-image propelled by commercials on TV; “Angels in Gas Stations,” a beautiful ballad to a childhood caretaker; and “Beautiful,” a very personal yet universal admonition to all outsiders who, because of their social challenges, may become the most creative and special of individuals. Frequent co-writer collaborator and musical director James Beaton provides Large with a harmonic beauty, fully realized on her outstanding re-interpretation of Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” which is nothing at all like any version you’ve ever heard. The arrangement, full of emotional nakedness, is clean, stylized and full of Large’s signature powerful voice.
Storm has paid her dues along her wild creative ride and can now take satisfaction in her success, although I sincerely doubt she’s going to rest on her laurels and coast any time soon. She’s much too restless and driven for complacency and inertia. She’ll be rocking the foundations for quite a while and, luckily, we get the benefit of her great talents.