In cabaret's house (to paraphrase John 14:2) are many mansions. As anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing Portland, Oregon, based diva Storm Large and her band can attest, one of those mansions looks a lot like a West Coast rock club.
A one-woman entertainment conglomerate (rock star, author, actor, and songwriter) Ms. Large brought her latest show to the Gaslight Cabaret Festival this weekend, and there's no doubt that she kicked out the jams. Her performance was least as much rock as cabaret (especially in its attitude), but it was solidly theatrical as well.
Mostly, though, it was entertaining, raucously and bawdily funny, and entirely genuine. You can't hide in a cabaret show, even with a four-piece band behind you, so Ms. Large (to her credit) doesn't even try. Slinky sexy, and blessed with a powerful, seamless voice, she immediately grabbed the audience's attention with one of her own songs ("Call Me Crazy") followed by a wildly obsessive cover of "I've Got You Under My Skin" that sounded more like the sort of thing Lou Reed was writing during his "Rock and Roll Animal" period.
Which, as it turned out, pretty much set the tone for the rest of the evening.
If you saw Ms. Large's last Gaslight show "Taken by Storm" back in April of 2014, you probably recognized some of the numbers in this latest outing. She reprised her just-this-side-of-creepy version of Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas," for example, as well as her psychotic dominatrix version of the sappy "Hopelessly Devoted to You" in which the song is yanked from the film version of "Grease" and dropped into one of the movie's multiple adaptations of Stephen King's "Carrie." Couldn't happen to a more deserving ditty.
Ms. Large's songwriting talents were also on display once again. Her next to closing song, "Angels in Gas Stations," was a beautiful little slice-of-romantic-life poem ("God is every damn where tonight," runs the refrain), while her "8 Miles Wide" was a cheerfully upbeat and totally outrageous declaration of female empowerment. "My vagina is eight miles wide," goes the refrain to that one. "Absolutely everyone can come inside / If you're ever frightened, just run and hide."
The most remarkable original number in the evening, though, was probably "Charity Lamb," inspired by the story of Portland's first convicted axe murderess. Originally composed in 2008 for a compilation CD honoring Portland's Lone Fir cemetery, the song focuses on Lamb's victimization by her brutal husband and her need to take her own life back, however violently. "I'm damned if I'll suffer / Another long summer / Alone with no lover / And your brutal hands" runs the lyric. It's potent and searing stuff.
All of which means that, once again, Storm Large's show did not fit into any easy niches and was not for the easily offended (devotees of the political right wing, in particular, might not feel very comfortable). But the cabaret tent is a big one (maybe even eight miles wide...), so there's plenty of room for high-energy hijinks by performers like Storm Large and her band.
That said, I have to admit that over ninety minutes, Ms. Large's show was a bit long for the one-act cabaret format. And some of her patter, entertaining as it was, tended to get a bit discursive. A monolog about Ben Carson's gaffes, for example, was funny stuff, but it could have been trimmed easily. Still, only a dedicated Puritan or some other variety of killjoy could have failed to have a good time there.
Accompanying Ms. Large were pianist and music director James Beaton, guitarist Matt Brown, bass guitarist Scott Weddle, and drummer Greg Eklund. They all rocked the house and have all performed with Ms. Large often enough to be very comfortable with both her and with each other.
Storm Large and her band appeared Friday and Saturday, November 6 and 7, at at the Gaslight Theatre on North Boyle in the Central West End. The Gaslight Cabaret Festival continues through November 21st; visit the web site for details.