You don’t normally get gold lamé and bustiers with your baroque pop, but Ann Magnuson demonstrated that you obviously should. And the crowd packed into this Hollywood shoebox theater plainly concurred.
Drifting onto the stage in a ball gown whilst brandishing her traditional wand, the world-renowned singer, songwriter and performance artist set the dial for precisely how much excess is sufficient, and then lavished more. Magnuson shimmied in fringed bloomers. She lent the stage to the Louis XIV-bewigged voxmeister Prince Poppycock during a costume change. For that jolt of extra energy, she occasionally gave powerful vent to Yoko-like ululations. The between-song setups were funny and shameless. (Following the bubbly “Full of Fuck”: “Now that I’ve got over that hump . . .”) Yet nothing distracted from the melodiousness and character of her voice, in service to the truly amazing songs from her new CD, “Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories.”
Like, yikes. The couch-fainting drama of “Falling for an Actor.” The frug-worthy spark of “Disassociation.” The wistful coyness of “Just a Guy.” The grand romance of “Cynical Girl.” Bespectacled backup singer Lisa Jenio added a neat flute obbligato to her piercing chirp on the panoramic “What Ever Happened to New York,” and knelt with a little tape recorder that played tinny piano (for that film-flashback effect) as Magnuson narrated the voyeurism-themed “Art Professor.” Compared to anything you’ll currently hear on the radio or musical stages . . . Well, you can’t; many of these tunes are simply in another category, one that includes the classic work of Paul McCartney, the Kinks and Gilbert & Sullivan. The structures are like glass sculptures, balanced and upward-twisting, yet strong enough to withstand the tension released by ingenious chord changes and bridgework.
Much of the glory arrived courtesy of Kristian Hoffman, Magnuson’s music director, harmony singer and main composer, who lurked behind his bank of keyboards, scaring up samples of harp, harpsichord and even Mellotron as he led the crack six-piece band, which included drummer Joseph Berardi, bassist William Bongiovanni, and guitarists David Bongiovanni and Jonathan Lea. Anway, there was plenty of glory to go around.