LIVE: The Ukuladies @ MASS MoCA, 7/17/10

Ukuladies @ MASS MoCA
Oh me, oh my.

The Ukuladies are like… well, what are they like?

Maybe they’re like what would have happened if the Lickettes had mutinied and taken over Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks for themselves…

Or if the Boswell Sisters had been born 60 years later…

Or if “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” had a house band…

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For the sake of background, let’s say that they’re a delightful performance ensemble featuring three singing-ukulele playing gals (fraternal twins Genevieve and Jimmy Lu, as well as their Aunt Mary Louise) and tap-dancer Cousin Bunnie.

When not giving her tap shoes a workout, the perpetually perky Cousin Bunnie often spent her time on stage acting out the lyrics of vintage tunes (like Fanny Brice’s “Cooking Breakfast for the One I Love,” during which she also passed around a skillet full of bacon to the members of the audience) and like-minded original tunes (“Cookie Jar,” during which the crowd was rewarded with – that’s right – tasty cookies).

The music was often played on toys – toy piano, toy flute – but the musicianship was genuine, and the gals really nailed that sweet, sweet vocal harmony on ditties like “Whispering,” “Don’t Fence Me In” and “Bye, Bye Blues.”

While they revived various old-school standards – and a more contemporary cover like Josh Ritter’s “Stuck to You” – the gals actually write the bulk of their repertoire themselves. There’s the open marriage ode “The Ballad of Bill and Sam,” the snarky, flute-fueled bossa nova “Black Is the Smoke” and the twinkling, tantalizing ballad “Rooftops” (played on toy piano, ukulele, toy concertina and musical saw).

Saturday night’s tremendous thunder and lightning storm cut the outdoor performance a bit short, but the gals fearlessly regrouped in the museum’s main lobby to perform for another 20-25 minutes – without the benefit of a PA system – including the stunning, tour de force reinvention of Teresa Brewer’s zippy “Music, Music, Music” that incorporated belly dancing, opera, rap, cowboy songs, as well as references to Toni Basil, John Cage and Beyonce. My head is still spinning.

Equal parts retro-music concert and zany theatrical performance, the Ukuladies were an absolutely perfect example of MASS MoCA’s Alt Cabaret performance series.

Genevieve………….Katie Down
Jimmy Lu……Philippa Thompson
Aunt Mary Louise….Mary Myers
Cousin Bunnie….Heather Warfel

Cooking Breakfast for the One I Love (Fanny Brice)
Stuck to You (Josh Ritter)
Black Is the Smoke
Bye Bye Blues
Closed Door Blues
Don’t Fence Me In
Ghost Rider in the Sky
Now He Can’t Shoot His Pistol Anymore (?)
I’ll Never Find Another Like You (?)
The Ballad of Bill and Sam
Cookie Jar
Mean Old Man
Music, Music, Music
Kiss of Fire

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