Lady Rizo: Indigo

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Lady Rizo

Indigo—CD Release

Feinstein’s at the Nikko, San Francisco, CA, November 09, 2017

Reviewed by Steve Murray for Cabaret Scenes 

Lady Rizo

The faithful gathered at Feinstein’s to pay homage to Lady Rizo (née Amelia Zirin-Brown), the cult chanteuse whose live performances have become the stuff of legend. Here to preview selections from her long-awaited sophomore CD, Indigo, Rizo was in fine form. Her strong, clear voice was more powerful than ever; her razor-sharp banter was honed like a samurai sword; and, of course, there was her outrageously over-the top performance.

Known for blending theatrics, comedy, and performance art, Lady Rizo’s character backs it up with soaring vocal displays and considerable songwriting skills. Making her way through the crowd to take the stage, she asked the lighting tech to keep the house lights down, saying “these people look better in the dark.” It was one of many witty quips that have speckled her performances. Later, she would chide politicians for their “opinion sandwich no one ordered.” Add her melodramatic onstage costume change and her signature long-stem rose routine and you can’t help but fall in love with the Lady.

Rizo is far more than a pretty face with the comic timing of an Imogene Coca and the quick wit of a Frances Faye. An accomplished songwriter with a huge voice, Rizo is on par with her heavyweight peers Pink, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, and Storm Large. She had her hand in co-writing almost every number she sang, many penned with guitarist and longtime collaborator Yair Evnine. The CD has been percolating for four years and plenty has happened: an unfortunate divorce, depression, new love, and a baby. The songs pretty much cover these topics, each presented as a complete theatrical piece.

“Albatross” (Rizo/Ethan Allen/David Peter-Mellish), a slow tempo disco tune, reflects the pain of spending her first New Year’s Eve alone. “Gypsy in Me” (Rizo/Hans Teuber) finds her ruminating on the life on the road, living out of suitcases and hotels. Rizo can switch genres on a dime, exhibited on her original “It’s Alright,” a blistering soul standard that would make Etta James proud. “Hit of You” (Rizo/Evnine), with its hook-laden melody, may be a commercial hit while retaining Rizo’s quirky tempos and subject matter. This buoyant piece may reflect her new loves, both the new baby (her second), and the baby’s daddy.

A haunting rendition of James Shelton’s intoxicating “Lilac Wine” came to Rizo via Jeff Buckley via Nina Simone. Along with Evnine’s stellar guitar lines, Rizo was accompanied by local horn master Adam Theis of Jazz Mafia, who provided the horns on the new CD. There were smart choices from one smart cookie and one of the most electric cabaret performers on the circuit. Through Evnine, there’s a six-degrees-of-separation line to gifted songwriter-singer Spencer Day, and Rizo included a cover of his wry twist on Hollywood fame, “The Ghost of the Château Marmont.” Day also co-wrote (with Rizo & Evnine) the very orchestral “Living in Color” — another possible hit.

She humorously states that she’d like to be more famous, but not like today’s media whores, because she deserves it. Rizo had her Rizophiles eating out of her hand by the set encore, a stunning mashup of the Nina Simone-recorded “Sinnerman” (Les Baxter/Will Holt) and the Donna Summer hit “I Feel Love” (Giorgio Moroder/Pete Bellotte/Summer).

Steve Murray

Always interested in the arts, Steve was encouraged to begin producing and, in 1998, staged four, one-man vehicles starring San Francisco's most gifted performers. In 1999, he began the Viva Variety series, a live stage show with a threefold mission to highlight, support, and encourage gay and gay-friendly art in all the performance forms, to entertain and document the shows, and to contribute to the community by donating proceeds to local non-profits. The shows utilized the old variety show style popularized by his childhood idol Ed Sullivan. He’s produced over 150 successful shows, including parodies of Bette Davis’s gothic melodramedy Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte and Joan Crawford’s very awful Trog. He joined Cabaret Scenes 2007 and enjoys the writing and relationships he’s built with very talented performers.