Today would have been the 75th birthday of the enigmatic art chanteuse Nico. I saw her reincarnated last night, in a spot-on, dead-funny, brilliant show by the performer Tammy Faye Starlite, at the louche Pico Boulevard cabaret lounge Mint. Tammy impersonates the Teutonic beauty with the arch exaggerations of a classic drag act; her makeup-encrusted eyes zoom wide with sarcastic disdain at errant laughs or remembered inanities. But the interpreter’s sense of humor is sharp, wide-ranging, and wicked – she sings like Joan Baez, but she jabs like Lenny Bruce. Her targets shift from Nico’s legion of legendary lovers (Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, David Bowie, Jackson Browne) – “I mean friend euphemistically,” she says — to today’s crackpot legislators.
Starlite makes fun of the former Velvet Underground singer’s deadpan, drugged-out affect and German arrogance. “Jews are my go-to trope when I find something execrable,” she says. But she also sings Nico’s songs beautifully, funny accent and all. In the midst of her deconstruction of this cultish icon, Tammy resurrects her’s music, from the Velvets’ “Femme Fatale,” to Browne’s “These Days,” to Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine” –all songs written for Nico. Starlite’s Chelsea girl is more than a muse for great men (though she is that); she’s an underestimated talent too proud to feel sorry for herself.
The show ended with Starlite’s ace band (Petey Andrews on guitar, Richard Feridun on guitar and mandolin, Keith Hartel on bass, Erik Paparazzi on keyboards, and Aaron Conte on drums) tearing “Heroes” to shreds. Tammy sang Bowie’s epic with all shtick gone, only real sentiment now.
While Tammy left the stage to “do something,” Carlene Carter came out and played a walloping “I’m Waiting for My Man.” Carter – daughter of June Carter and a country star in her own right — has a great Janis Joplin voice and looked awesome in cowgirl shirt, shorts, black stockings, and boots. Incredible night. Thanks Tammy. Happy birthday Nico.