By Gillian Reagan
The scene was typical for the low-lit Makor Café young couples and aging lovers holding hands under sleek, mahogany tables but the performers they were about to see were unlike any girl band in New York. The wine sipping and whispering hushed as four 20-to-30-something women took the stage in black high heels and lustrous red dresses. Lead singer Lee Ann Westover, a sassy, shapely brunette with cat-eye glasses, introduced herself to the crowd of dedicated fans and Upper West Siders. Im going to kick some ass tonight! Woot! she said, punctuating her greeting with a hip shake.
Westover is one-fourth of The Lascivious Biddies, an all-female pop quartet with vivacious personalities and a distinctive pop-meets-cabaret music style. Their classical, airy jazz arrangements; rich four-part harmonies; and salty yet charming lyrics culminate in a sound reminiscent of World War II cabaret performers, jazz greats, and a little Joan Jett attitude thrown into the mix.
With their first sold out international show in at the North by Northeast Music Festival in Toronto last month, an upcoming album in the works and a new booking manager (Marc Baylin of Baylin Artists Management), the ladies are ready to Biddify the world.
Acclaimed jazz guitarist Amanda Monaco, Juilliard-trained bass-player Saskia Lane, and pianist Deidre Rodman round out this spirited quartet. They have been performing what they like to call cocktail pop songs since 2001 and have recorded two full-length albums, Biddi-Luxe and Get Lucky, and one limited edition EP, I Feel Biddy.
We realized we had something special from the first rehearsal, when we played Moon River together, said Lane, a petite blonde with smiling eyes and a wide grin. It was magical. The chemistry and the sound were unlike anything any of us had experienced before.
At least one night a week, the Biddies gather at Lanes East Village apartment, where they gossip, laugh and work out the kinks in their harmonies. Here, in a cozy living room stacked with books and instruments, the ladies recount the formation of the band.
About nine years ago, Westover and Monaco were playing in a swing band, The Camaros. The two reconnected in 2000, and Monaco, who had been listing to the Go-Gos album, Talk Show, joked about forming a Go-Gos cover band. They soon ditched that plan, however, once Monaco brought in her friend Rodman, who had been playing in the Big Apple Circus and with Roy Nathanson of the Jazz Passengers. It was Rodman who came up the bands great name, and after one session together they realized they had something unique. So began the Biddies.
Meanwhile, Lane was trekking across the country on a train ride from San Francisco, her hometown, to New York to attend Julliard. She was living in Harlem above Monaco and the neighbors heard each others music from their apartments. Monaco invited Lane to play in the band, and thats all she wrote, said Monaco, holding out her hands and shrugging her shoulders. A music group and a life-long bond began.
I dont think I knew what friendship was until we formed the band, Westover said, tapping her feet in socks covered in cartoon kitties on the wood floor. Its part of the magic we have on stage and in the music. The ladies have been with each other through sickness (Monaco was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in January 2005) and health (Westover flips through a womens wedding magazine and stops at a picture of three bridesmaids. She labels them Lee Ann, Amanda and Deidre with a pen, and doodles glasses and longer hair on the models: bridesmaids in Lanes wedding in September.)
Since the band doesnt have a drummer, (we just never had a friend who played the drums, Lane says) they rely on a metronomes ticking rhythm to stay on beat during rehearsals.
We should name it something, Westover says. A name youd give a bouncer like knuckles.
How about BK for brass knuckles? Monaco asks.
BK reminds me of Burger King, Rodman replies.
Brass knuckles, those funky knuckles, Westover sings, to the beat of a Beastie Boys song.
The Biddies impeccable comedic timing, chemistry and talent culminate in a radiant stage presence. At performances, the Biddies take joking jabs at each other and inject a yee-haw or a yahoo, unnecessarily.
Were all really strong, type-A women, Lane said. Thats what makes it so special and I think people pick up on that when were on stage. A favorite is Office Song, a spunky new tune about working the 9-5 daily grind. I wrote this song because I was working for a total jerk-off in an office, said Westover, who until recently split the songwriting with Rodman. (Now all the Biddies contribute original songs.) On the track she croons, Take your photo copies, and take your watery coffee. Take your take a message please Lee Ann. Because its getting hot in here and Id love to have a beer because its 5 p.m. The other bandmates chime in during a verse with a nagging four-part harmony, I need blah blah blah, yesterday, last week!
But they are storytellers as well as comedians. They bring to life characters in songs like Betty, about a small-town girl taking the bustling New York City by storm and Alice, about an aging widow who gets nightly visits from her postman.
The ladies also use their storytelling talents in their podcasts, or BiddyCasts, which are downloadable MP3 recordings of performances, news updates and humorous reports on their personal lives. The women started recording their rehearsals, shows and stories into a radio-show format in February 2005 and posting them on their website. A recent BiddyCast recounts their trip to Monacos fathers wedding and Westovers blubbering performance during the ceremony. Although their broadcasts increased their audience and they were featured on CBS Evening News, mtv.com and USA Today, the band is still struggling to find success in the city, even as its members continue to do exciting work on their own. Lane, for instance, was recently hired to play bass with Dan Zanes, and last month performed in Jay-Zs Illphonic Orchestra at his Radio City show. Rodman recently finished a record with famous electric bassist, Steve Swallow, and will be touring with him next year. Monaco has a successful teaching studio and just published her first guitar book, and Westover continues to explore her inner tech geek. She is now the webmaster for the Biddies site, and those of several other musicians, and maintains her own travel podcast, thetinyguide.com, along with the BiddyCasts.
But in reference to the band, Westover explains, There isnt a market for jazz cabaret music. People see us as a gimmick or dont think well sell records.
And were all over 22, Monaco groaned. Were not up there to be an anomaly, or to have people be like, wow, an all-girl chick band, how cute!
When they see us live, they start to take us seriously, because they see how talented we are, replied Lane.
Westover said the New York scene is ready for a change. Everybody is just waiting around for someone to take a risk, she said. Were doing it! We just need to let them know we exist, that were out there for them.
The way the Biddies see it, every show is another chance to attract more Biddy Buddies, and they have two new opportunities lined up in town. Their first upcoming show is this Saturday, July 22 at Mo Pitkins, and the second is in September at the world-famous Birdland, which Charlie Parker once called the jazz corner of the world.
We enjoy the challenge of a new audience, whether the venues metropolitan or in the boonies, Lane said. Because at every single show, theres one or two or a hundred who get it, and thats what the Biddies live for.
For more information on the Biddies upcoming shows, and to download their podcasts, visit www.biddies4ever.com.