Storm Large – “Holiday Ordeal”
Storm Large – “Holiday Ordeal”
Feinstein’s at the Nikko, San Francisco, CA, December 12, 2019
At 50, cult icon Storm Large may be about to cross over into larger commercial and popular success, and based on the first of her two sold-out shows at Feinstein’s, that reward for years of back-breaking touring is overdue and much deserved. Feinstein’s press materials came with a warning that “the show is recommended for adults with a wicked sense of humor and tolerance for strong language; it may best be described as “not your mom’s idea of a holiday show.” Large’s fans need no qualification for her ribald, oft profane, X rated act, and the virgin couple sitting next to me fell in love with Large from the moment she opened her big, I’ll say anything mouth.
Backed by her bandmates Bonheur (James Beaton, Scott Weddle, Greg Eklund), Storm prefaced her show with her mixed feelings about the holiday season, ‘full of expectations, redemption, hope and racist relatives”. Launching into Elvis Presley’s “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” (Red West), Large displays her big ballad vocals – clear and sonorous with excellent phrasing and control. She speaks to the conflict of enjoying entertaining at the holidays with the loneliness and emptiness of being away from home in Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders beautiful “2000 Miles” whose lyrics refer to two long-distance lovers who miss each other over the holidays, and Storm’s humorous original “Let’s Spend Xmas at the Hotel”. From stone cold haunting beauty to silly romp, Large maneuvers through both aspects of her nature with infectious joy and wild abandon.
A gifted storyteller, Large shares her troubled past openly with a welcome authenticity. Wanting to be a werewolf at 5, she instead moves on to wanting to be kidnapped at age 7- not as a bad thing, but thinking it meant someone loved you enough to take you to their home and care for you. Her meeting and talks with a late-teens drifter with a van seem like a godsend until he vanishes. Her naivete does not end up in her murder which is a of course a perfect segue to the Cold War apocalyptic tune “Forever Young”. Asked to perform at the stately Lincoln Center for an event honoring female artists, Large teases the audience by contemplating singing her very popular vagina empowerment song (“My Vagina is Eight Miles Wide”) instead unveiling a hard driving rendition of James Brown’s “”It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” (James Brown/Betty Jean Newsome) mashed together with a snippet of the Eurythmics “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves” (Annie Lennox/Dave Stewart).
A stunning version of “O Holy Night” finds Large promising she “wouldn’t sing the hell out of it”. She does, and its breathtaking. Coming full circle on her kidnapper story, Storm gets a letter forty years later from that same drifter telling her how she affected his life for the better. It’s a redemption story of how we all touch other people’s lives and lead into a poignant cover of the huge Bing Crosby hit “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (Kim Gannon/Walter Kent). Joni Mitchell’s “The River” has become a modern Christmas song set near Christmas time and dealing with a romantic breakup. Large says guitarist Scott Weddle and she always wanted to cover Mitchell but were intimidated by her lofty status. No need, Large nails the song in her own style.
Large is a hybrid of rocker, balladeer, storyteller and jokester making her a formidable entertainer. Closing with two original tunes that define her songwriting artistry, “Angels in Gas Stations” is a love poem to a kind soul who showed her unconditional love and kindness, while “Stand Up For Me” is an emotionally charged anthem written for marriage equality but also speaking to universal love by asking the question “what would love ask of us”? One by one, audience members rose solemnly to affirm what Large was representing. I’ve never seen Storm as emotional as she was this night and her genuineness rubbed off on all who attended this superb show.