In the number "Smoke Rings," conceptualist Laurie Anderson intones, "Well, I had a dream, and in it I went to a little town/And all the girls in town were named Betty."
By contrast, none of the members of the oddball trio BETTY sport this moniker. The New York-based act consists of guitarist/bassist/drum programmer Alyson Palmer, keyboardist/cellist Amy Ziff, and Bitzi Ziff, who handles keyboard and percussion chores. Bitzi is also Amy's twin sister--at least on occasion. According to Amy, "Sometimes we are. Sometimes we're not. It depends on the mood, I guess." Amy's thumbnail sketch of her band is equally quirky. "BETTY is three gals on the go," she says, "kind of taking their own thing and doing it and believing in it."
From a musical standpoint, BETTY's thing isn't easy to define. Comparisons to Bette Midler, the Pointer Sisters, Cyndi Lauper and the Roches aren't uncommon, and the band's own bio describes the threesome as "part B-52's, Joni Mitchell and Parliament-Funkadelic." The result comes across like a performance-art variant on the type of lounge belters whose repertoires are filled with Broadway show tunes. These women may look at times like feminist escapees from Vanity 6, but they're actually three great vocalists with a fondness for twisted songs and drum machines. Amy, however, prefers a simpler description. "Just call our music pop," she advises. "That's fine by me."
Lyrically, BETTY is just as direct. For example, "Kiss My Sticky," a 1994 single that became a cult favorite in NYC dance halls, concerns just what you'd expect and is available in "udderly romantic," "shameless dance" and "extended ego" mixes. Similarly, most of the material on the 1991 CD Hello BETTY!, issued on the combo's own The Man From B.E.T.T.Y. imprint, focuses on good times, not the issues of the day. It's something of a surprise, then, to discover that the BETTYs are so socially active.
"I know everybody is always interested in what you do and what you are," Amy muses. "But I think it's the music that counts, and that you are real people who believe in real things and contribute your time and resources. And that's something we will do. I mean, we marched on Washington for gay rights. We marched on Washington for a pro-choice rally. We sang for that, too. We do fundraisers for different political people. I think that everyone who is artistically minded should do these things. You have a vested interest in what affects you.
"Still, we're not a political band," she continues. "We're just out there to entertain you and take you away from your everyday worries and woes and just give you a couple of hours of different ideas, great music and a different feeling when you leave."
The group's reputation has already spread overseas: BETTY has played an extended stint in London, made an unusually positive impression on the patrons at the Edinburgh Arts Festival and appeared at several hot spots in Australia. Stateside, the band is familiar to listeners of National Public Radio as a result of its holiday-themed guest-commentator spots, and to the seven or eight people who caught the Michael J. Fox vehicle Life With Mikey, in which BETTY collectively portrayed street-corner carolers. "We did some music for HBO, too," Amy elaborates. "We did about 32 songs for a children's show called Encyclopedia, which is still running. We also did some music for a show that's on late at night on HBO, called Real Sex, so we really kind of run the whole spectrum of different things to write for and sing about."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
In addition to these projects, BETTY is planning to record an album of all-new material in May; negotiations with several major labels interested in distributing the completed effort are under way. In Amy's view, the time for the BETTYfication of America is now. "I think we need something that can reach a little bit more people, something that can make us a little more accessible," she says. "We're not some premanufactured, prefabricated thing that's been shoved down people's throats. You know how today everything has to be kind of put together and hyped really a lot and sold like that? It's not about that with BETTY. We're really kind of organic. We came together ourselves six years ago, and we're just kind of like the real thing--the real alternative in good music these days.
"This is just a little aside," she concludes, "but since this is our first time to Denver, I'd just like to say that we love champagne. We love truffles. And any offerings people want to bring backstage to us is fine by us. Flowers, too, of course."
BETTY. 8 p.m. Saturday, April 8, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax, $13, 443-5858.