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Friday, June 11, 1999
mines the best of the pop vein on BETTY3
As much as BETTY loves to revel in irony and attitude, the Washington-bred threesome often come across as unabashed pop romantics on their latest release. Granted, their neo-psychedelic adaptation of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" isn't exactly guileless, but there is something innocent and endearing about the trio's multitiered remembrance of pop past.
And the same could be said for the album's opening track, "It Girl," a swirling celebration of zeitgeist-defining celebrityhood in which the flashiest flash in the pans are honored for their 15 minutes of flair. After all, it isn't easy being "amorous, dangerous, glamorous, scandalous." The curious linkage between fame, fashion and fortune is a subject that BETTY treats with great affection and not a little style of its own.Still, it's not as if they've donned rose-colored glasses. "Kissing You," a punk cum metal refrain, is lacerating in more ways that one, while "Greedy" is a song about uncontrollably voracious desire. then there's "Naughty Naughty Nadia," a gothic horror story with sexual overtones: "Your cleavage won't protect you/nor will your pretty blue eyes/the punishment is fitting/and worthy of you crime."
Not all of the songs are fully realized. Some merely offer the trio a chance to let off some funk-powered steam or indulge their imaginations. But the best tracks are alternately laced with enough sugar and spite to warrant repeat spins.
trio delivers a knockout
Imagine the Andrews Sisters re-engineered for the 90's, except with a playfully wicked bite beneath the silky harmonies.
Or perhaps a streamlined version of the Go-Go's happily embracing upbeat pop, but not too coyly or girlishly.
That's the magic blend to be found in BETTY, a New York-based trio that delivered a knockout cabaret performance last night at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. They continue tonight and tomorrow at the Alexander St. venue.
Though touted as a campy comedy act with a solid musical backbone, BETTY no longer fits that billing. Having spent seven years refining their work, Alyson Palmer and sisters Amy and Elizabeth Ziff are relegating comedy to the distant sidelines and concentrating instead on music.
Smart move, because the shift yielded a joyful, intimate concert with wide stylistic variations. More often than not, their songs probed the sting and frustration of love lost, but never through maudlin lyrics or wrenching dirges.
"Houdini, " for instance, bounced along cheerfully while drawing on witty, sleight-of-hand metaphors -- breaking free of a sour affair, disappearing from a lover's doorstep and escaping with pride intact. "Limboland," on the other hand, was all lush harmonies and loping rhythms propped up by an insistent beat that gave the piece a sense of subtle urgency.
Hints of folk rock, with Palmer on guitar, even crept into the coolly interwoven voices of "Impossibly Blue," giving BETTY an exhilarating breadth of expression.
What matters, above all, are the three confident and sensuous voices, with observations on loneliness and unrequited love that know no sexual boundaries.
Pop: Fresh From "Limboland"
Having spent as lot of time ahead of the camp and comedy curve, the female threesome known as BETTY softens its satirical edge on "Limboland" and embarks on a pop hiatus full of swirling harmonies and smart-to-innocent lyrics.
Two of the 13 songs are savvy updates of Top 40 staples: "In Crow," occasionally suggests what the Mamas and Papas might have sounded like today if they hadn't self-destructed; and the Association's "Windy," of all things, is redeemed by a bongo beat and a typically whimsical vocal arrangement.
Several of the original songs also put a fresh spin on pop conventions. "Baby Ooo" is one part '60s girl group, '90s club track. "Freaky" and "Flick that Thing" are tongue-in-cheek chic, and "Impossibly Blue" is just that -- a gorgeously harmonized heartache of a song. There are a lot of other appealing tunes here -- the alluring yearning of "Heaven," for example, and the odd, coolly intonated scenario of "Metro." Enough, in fact, to convince anyone that BETTY isn't in it just for laughs.
The pop trio BETTY, settling in for a three-week stint at the Ballroom, may frighten the uninitiated with the title of their new album and subsequent single "Kiss My Sticky."
Fear not. It's a legacy from the fruitful, if sometimes overripe, mind of Gertrude Stein. The full line reads, "Kiss my sticky and a cow will come out," and it translates into quite a catchy tune, thank you very much.
Thanks, that is, to the very clever collective mind that is BETTY. The threesome is comprised of sisters Bitsi Ziff and Amy Ziff, and "sister under the skin" Alyson Palmer. Together they embody one of the more innovative sounds around.
Their musical prowess is evinced in their songwriting ability and voices that fit together like a dovetail joint. In the flash of a semi-quaver they can be reminiscent of R.E.M. or Ladysmith Black Mambazo, yet they are completely their own entity.
For example, the melody in "Fall" has its roots in pre-disco 1970s. The "Shaft" like recitative is charmingly retro yet interestingly noveau.
Conversely, they give "The Look of Love" (from "Casino Royale') a deliberate samba beat, with nary a trace of the original tune or timing, and create a terrific dance song.
They're also good at creating humor in the face of technical disaster. Opening night, just before the crescendo of the pulsating "Aftershock," the sound system blew. Amy improvised, "Why? Why?" gradually evoking that infamous Nancy Kerrigan moment.
These women are strangely delightful. Their personalities are as distinct and bright as their individual voices, and yet the amalgam creates a something of beauty.
Gertrude Stein, who knew a good thing when she saw it, probably would have thrown Alice B. Tokias over for BETTY.
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