The New Standards may have moved their annual Holiday Show from the Fitzgerald Theater across the river to downtown Minneapolis for a two-night stand at the State Theatre (December 7 and 8, the latter of which I attended), but there was still plenty of St. Paul charm mixed into the variety show. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman led a quartet of bagpipes through a mesmerizing prelude and accompaniment of the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” and Coleman’s arts and cultural director Joe Spencer tap-danced his way through a cover of OutKast’s “Hey Ya” with a small male dance troupe.
The cameos came fast and furious as the two-act show unfolded. Led by the core trio (which features pianist Chan Poling of the Suburbs, bassist John Munson of Semisonic/The Twilight Hours, and vibraphonist and drummer Steve Roehm) and their robust backing orchestra, highlights included Haley Bonar and Maurice Jacox dueting on a fiery “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Dan Wilson singing his new song “Disappearing,” Jeremy Messersmith doing a dramatic rendition of “Toyland,” and poet Tim Frantzich reciting a Christmas-themed work by Robert Bly.
In the second act, Aby Wolf stopped the show with a jaw-dropping, angelic “Silent Night,” and Dessa followed it up with a hilarious rewrite of “My Favorite Things” that segued perfectly into “Dixon’s Girl.”
But the night’s biggest moment came at the end of the main set, when Chan Poling got up from his piano and left Matt Wilson, Dan Wilson, and John Munson at the center of the stage as stagehands dramatically wheeled out a standing drumkit. As some in the audience muttered “No way,” Elaine Harris of Trip Shakespeare bounded out on stage and the band launched into “Susannah”—the first thing they had performed as a quartet in over 20 years.
“This is the result of 20 years of pestering, mostly on my part,” Munson joked. The crowd rose to their feet for a standing ovation, and Trip Shakespeare followed it up with “Snow Day”—a staple of the New Standards Holiday Shows, but this time performed by the original band in the way it had been originally written. The snow falling on the stage during that song almost felt like an afterthought; the crowd didn’t need any extra stage production to realize that moment was magical.