"Wicked Funny" Singers Give a "Pissah" ConcertBy Joel M. Rosenberg
Massachusetts folk music is heavily dependent on being from Massachusetts to understand. Which is why "The 6th Annual Festival of Funny Songwriters" was funny to me, but hilarious to townies.
The concert, at the Somerville Theatre on January 10, featured the talents of four singer/songwriters, all from Mass. in some way. Put on by Songstreet Productions, the show opened with Peter Lehndorf (http://signature-sounds.com/lehndorf.html), hailing from East Longmeadow, Mass. (which was in fact also a song on his setlist). Lehndorf displayed some nice creativity, with "Everything Takes a Little Longer," a tune that has a few anecdotes illustrating how time speeds up, and "Marriage of Convenience," which tells the story of Heather and Billy, and how these 7-11 and Cumberland Farms clerks (respectively) got together. Lehndorf was just the opener, though.
Ratsy followed (http://www.ratsy.com). Except for her annoying condescending smile, which she displayed too frequently, her powerful voice filled the hall with all different stories; of her childhood ("Margy Nairs her Forearms," which promotes leaving her sister behind from the family vacation); of her opinions of men ("Don't Judge The Herd," actually a song that promotes individual guys); of sexual harassment ("Big Dudes in Polyester Suits,"which doesn't promote guys in general); and even fast-food habits ("McDonald's," which is an outlet for her disappointment with said restaurant's change in their fish sandwich). She's weird, but entertaining.
Next was the star of the evening (despite his time slot at third) John Forster (http://www.icu.com/johnforster/). A musical genius, he has been described as a mix of George Carlin and Frank Zappa, and reminiscent of Tom Lehrer and Cole Porter at their best. Even Tom Lehrer said, "You don't need me anymore, you've got John Forster to kick around." Opening with "My Opening Number," which brings to mind "The Theme to Garry Shandling's Show," he quickly went into his "All-Purpose Holiday Carol," a beautiful amalgam of all the end-of-year celebration songs which pays homage to each, and also squeezes in some Harry Belafonte.
Switching to a toy piano, he prefaced his next few songs with a warning to parents, saying, "If they get it, they're old enough to hear it." He then sang a song about sex, and then about how his toddler was rejected from the "most prestigious Nursery School," which will necessarily destroy his future. An ingenious poem entitled "The Juice a la Seuss" gave a unique take on the Trial Of the Century, and "Mismatch Made in Hell" documented one of his failed relationships.
But the real highlights of Forster's performance were the brilliant Paul Simon "tribute" "Fusion," which was a total rip on Simon's steal-from-folk-and-claim-as-own composing style, and "Entering Marion," devilishly satirizing the unnecessarily large signs delimiting Massachusetts town lines by sexualizing the experience of "entering" each one, from Beverly to Lawrence to Athol. Pure genius. Unfortunately, I didn't understand his mostly Yiddish encore, but he said only about 20 percent of the audience would get it. Maybe next time.
The second half of this marathon show featured the last performer and local favorite Don White (who actually doesn't seem to have a web page). Like Lehndorf, White managed to get in a song with his town in the title ("I'm From Lynn, What Can I Say?"), along with a bevy of other songs that were quite entertaining, and mixed with background as well as Arlo did in December. "Rosco" told about the similarity between husbands and dogs, "Stupid" was about his kids, and "Project Girl" described his street-smart wife. The epic story entitled "The ShamefulBallad of Lisa, the Orchard Queen," described Don's dog, who was the object of puppy lust for many other pooches populating an apple grove in Washington state. Masterfully crafting the plot, he dressed his dog in briefs one day as a makeshift chastity belt, only to dispose of the underwear in his backyard, making it an aromatic trophy to the dogs who sniffed their way to it.
"The 7th Annual Festival of Funny Songwriters" will most likely again feature "wicked funny" singer/songwriters, and a whole bunch of Mass jokes. But chances are by then you'll have been here at least a year (and probably a lot longer), and it will be as hilarious to you as the performers intend. No matter what, it's a "pissah."