Last night, I saw a revelatory performance. Lea DeLaria, the butch dyke who plays Boo on Orange Is the New Black, staged a concert in a tiny Italian restaurant on King Street with a jazz trio. They only performed seven songs, but each one was as familiar to me as “Happy Birthday.”
They started off nice and easy with a rendition of “Fame,” which led into a beboppin’ version of “Boys Keep Swinging.” Then she sang “Golden Years,” “Space Oddity,” “Jean Genie,” “Let’s Dance,” and finished it all off with a jaw-droppingly beautiful version of “Life On Mars.”
Yes, all David Bowie songs, all done in classic jazz style. You’d think it might not work, but it does. The songs take on a new life with these breezy arrangements. But more important is DeLaria’s voice. Quite possibly the best lesbian vocalist around right now (with the exception of kd lang), DeLaria has been stunning New York and London audiences with her smooth stylings for two decades. It started with a hep cat reading of Sondheim's “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.” But then she branched out, with a CD of pop standards like Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and Blondie’s “Call Me.”
DeLaria is mostly famous as the butch dyke comedian who rants like Jackie Gleason. Unafraid of controversy, she often rails on about how young butches transition rather than stay dyke. She’s also one of those Italian broads who love to get in your face. She’s made me laugh for years, and now she’s got me singing along, too.
I cannot wait for her to release House of David, her CD of Bowie classics. The performance I saw last night was just a tease. I must have looked like a kid at Christmas, as she kept looking at me while singing. I realize no one buys CDs anymore, but here’s one recording you will love if you love Bowie, Lea, or jazz, and who doesn’t love all three?