Who is Tammy Faye Starlite, really?
I’m sure I don’t know — aside from the fact that she’s also known as Tammy Lang.
While I’ve seen her out and about and out of character in public, I’ve never really interacted her when she’s not playing a role.
She’s a talented singer — and a very good judge of musical talent, based on the people she gets to play in her various bands, especially drummers, who’ve included Pete Thomas, Ron Metz, and Dennis Diken — who seems to have chosen a very challenging career path.
Clearly, it’s tough making a go of being a pop singer under the best of circumstances. But Tammy’s chosen — or maybe just fallen into — a career of imitation that’s neither scripted tribute nor full-on parody.
One of her earlier incarnations — as her name suggests — was mash-up of evangelist-wife Tammy Faye Bakker with a country-western singer in the band Tammy Faye Starlite and the Angels of Mercy. (Before that, I am reminded, she performed with the knowingly sophomoric name of the Mike Hunt Band.) She did an over-the-top, sometimes offensive and disturbing, set that, under it all, was fantastically musical and entertaining,
In that incarnation, Tammy was something of a female El Vez (with whom she has appeared), taking elements of songs and ideas familiar to the audience and turning them into something new.
More recently, though, the bleached-blonde singer has latched onto the popular play-the-album trend by adopting the personas of some more-famous blondes, such as Nico and Marianne Faithfull and performing their albums.
I had the joy of catching Tammy’s latest project, Marianne Faithfull’s 1979 album “Broken English,” at Joe’s Pub on May 13. It’s a show she’s been working on for awhile, debuting it in March at Lincoln Center.
With help from an awesome band — Human Switchboard alums Jared Michael Nickerson on bass and Metz on drums, musical director Kevin Salem on lead guitar, Tammy’s husband Keith Hartel on keyboards and guitar, David Dunton on keyboards, and Craig Hoek on winds — Tammy did a great job with the classic album.
While the music was spot on, the banter between songs was not canned, and not frozen in time. Sure, Tammy’s character larded the script with frozen-in-time references to heroin (everything old IS new again) and Faithfull’s troubles with Keith Richards and Mick Jagger back in the day. But she brought things up to date with references to the Tea Party, the very recent suicide of Mick Jagger’s latest girlfriend, and more.
Here’s a video shot by Joe’s Pub;s official photographer, Kevin Yatarola: