SF Sketchfest: Nancy and Beth
Monday, February 3, 2014
Comedy and music have gone hand in hand for years. Some do it well like the Smothers Brothers and some do it like a guitar student at a frat party, but ultimately comedy is fun and music is fun. It makes sense to put them together like the proverbial chocolate and peanut butter for a delicious blend that in this case melts in your ears and not in your mouth…?
Last Friday night at the Kanbar Hall in the beautiful Jewish Community Center, Sketchfest offered up a heaping helping of musical goodness with star of stage and screen, Megan Mullally’s band, Nancy and Beth. Comprised of Mullally (Emmy winner for Will and Grace if you hadn’t heard), fellow actress Stephanie Hunt (Friday Night Lights, Californication) and smoking back-up band, Nancy and Beth delivered a solid set of classics and covers and most importantly, laughs.
Now, when comedy and music combine, there’s a fine line between good and bad and most time the combination leans toward parody. Not necessarily a bad thing, but the satire can take away from musical performance. Not the case with Nancy and Beth. One of the most memorable things about the band is just how damn fine they are as musicians. Mullally, a broadway vet, is a performer through and through and even though she complained at how sick she was that night, she projected a voice so strong and powerful that she captivated the entire room. Hunt’s got a voice as well and her harmonization with Mullally was angelic.
And although some songs were performed for the straight up comedic factor, (i.e. “Let me Smell Yo Dick) this was not a night of Weird Al songs (No disrespect to Mr. Yankovic, we LOVE him). Nancy and Beth did their interpretations of various songs ranging in styles from country/Americana to torch songs to even gangsta rap, but all the while they gave the audience a straight up song and dance show without compromising the musical quality. At one point of the night, they did a George Straight song that was just flat out heart breaking in its beautiful delivery.
Photo by Tommy Lau
But remembering that they were in fact at Sketchfest, Nancy and Beth kept it light and fun and whether it was by showing off her shiny, silver jumpsuit or going “earring less,” Mullally was clearly having a good time. Hunt appeared to be having fun too, but just in a generationally different way. Not really the performer that Mullally is, Hunt had a little less kick in her dance moves and although she looked like she was having a good time, Hunt came off as the younger, less enthusiastic part of the duo. But it didn’t matter too much as Hunt’s voice was on point the whole time and Mullally had enough energy to spare for the both of them.
I found myself, while not necessarily laughing the whole time, very happy with the performance last Friday. Nancy and Beth are fun, and the music and song interpretations were catchy and mesmerizing. At one point I sat there and wondered if they had music I could purchase, because I would pop in a Nancy and Beth CD just for listening pleasure. Mullally later announced, that they would be in fact releasing some music in the fall. As far as I’m concerned that’s an instant download as Nancy and Beth showed SF Sketchfest the perfect blend of comedy and music.
Opening Act: The Lampshades.
In continuing with the comedy and musical blend, the night was opened by The Lampshades, a down on their luck, sexually open, cruise ship frequenting, lounge act played by Kate Flannery (Meredith from The Office) and Scot Robinson (Anchorman). The lounge act, in comedy, is a staple. It’s been done to death on SNL and if done badly it’s just a poor attempt at a Sweeny Sisters sketch. In fact, in this day and age, or more importantly, to the current generation, the lounge act has only existed in comedy. You have to stretch your memory to find a contemporary lounge act that is legit. And then you’d most likely make fun of it for it being an awful take on music and singers.
So to pull off the joke that is the lounge act you need to not only understand the act that you are mocking, you also need to get the music being jabbed. You also need to understand music. Anybody can ham it up karaoke style on a song by Journey or Prince, but very few can take what’s supposed to be a one note joke and craft it into a hilarious, musically satisfying performance. And that’s what the Lampshades brought to the table Friday night.
With the potential to be dismissed as just another lounge singers bit, Flannery and Robinson understand the joke and they craft it well. Weaved within the lounge versions of some contemporary classics from the seventies, eighties and… today, The Lampshades also tell a story. In between songs we learn of their after show activities, their favorite gigs, their current sponsors and most importantly, how they really feel about each other.
But let’s not forget that all the while the audience is laughing, The Lampshades got the chops. Both Flannery and Robinson understand music and are both amazing singers. Robinson’s humor was dry as he played the drunk but his deep tones complemented Flannery’s highs. Flannery’s pipes were just as impressive and even when she’s milking every last joke from Prince’s, “When Dove’s Cry” it’s very clear that she can belt them out with the best of them. And let’s not forget the girl’s moves. Flannery shook it like she meant it and added an unexpected sex appeal to the show.
The highlight of the performance was a brilliant mash up of Barry Manilow’s Mandy and Looking Glass’s Brandy that eventually mixed in Sammy Davis’ Candy Man and the Andy Griffith Show Theme that would be deemed, “Brandy, Mandy, Candy, Andy.” To pull that off, you need to understand pop music, lounge acts, comedy and music composition. The Lampshades pulled it off. They also proved that with the right blend of wit, jokes and performance, they’ll never be referred to as just another lounge act.