Reports of the early demise of Kiki and Herb, the now 91-year-old lounge singer and her faithful accompanist, were soundly crushed when the battered but unbowed act returned to the stage in 2016 after an eight-year absence, selling out all their shows at Joe’s Pub to an audience of dedicated fans.
Those fans will no doubt be filling the seats at the Brooklyn Academy of Music when the pair perform their latest seasonal tribute, “Kiki and Herb SLEIGH at BAM.”
Before they get there though, an invite-only audience got a sneak peek as the show was previewed at the tiny Parkside Lounge, where the duo’s splendor was on full display. Harking back to the early years before Carnegie Hall and Broadway, when small clubs were their only option (this, in fact, being one of them) their intimate performance was a fabulous reminder of what it was like to experience the wit, intelligence and musical onslaught of their lubricated sensibilities in their native setting.
While Herb has his solo spots, the stage is dominated by Ms. DuRane, who likes to banter over Herb’s cocktail piano stylings with a mix of nostalgia and current events, tenderly reminiscing about old friends such as Billie Holiday and Sylvia Plath — who she called Sylvie — as in, “get your head out of the oven Sylvie, we want to make popcorn!”
Although their duets can sometimes sound more like duels and one has to occasionally wonder about the thought process that led them to include Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ in a medley of Christmas tunes, there is no doubt that they have a sincere dedication to the art of song. And while it may not be a Radio City Christmas spectacular, who needs it when you’ve got Kiki? After all, as she points out, “I’ve still got my legs!”
She’s got more than that, as longtime fan (well, not that long) Amanda Rubin points out. “What a showgirl!”, she exclaimed. “It was a joy to see her and Herb back in the saddle. Ninety-one and still hoofing! A wonderful blend of humor, pathos, wit and disarming inebriation.”
Canadian Club whiskey must have some pretty good preservative properties, because, ladies and gentlemen, Kiki and Herb have a habit of putting away a good sized bottle during the set and that is on top of whatever they’ve imbibed during soundcheck. The years (and the alcohol) have added character to Kiki’s voice, which is especially poignant in a tune such as Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne”, delivered after Kiki mused about her difficult relationship with her daughter.
DuRane also spoke fondly of her grandchild, Opioid (“we call them Opie now”) and referenced the holiday season with a long tale of a sacred cow, the Vatican and the nature of show business, which is surely what has kept them going all these years. Even a tipsy improvised piece for piano, sleigh bells and whiskey bottle earned the audience’s rapt attention and sustained applause.
“That was jazz, ladies and gentlemen,” Kiki informed us.
While the back and forth vocalizations in “Keep on Loving You” revealed the obvious affection between the two, it should be noted that their longstanding relationship is strictly professional, probably due to the fact that Herb prefers a gender other than Kiki’s. And, we should point out, though it’s been rumored that rumored that Kiki and Herb are actually cabaret superstars Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman, we tend to dismiss that as a QAnon alternative fact, although we have noticed they have never all been photographed together.
Even the legendary Cher, allegedly, had something to say about the notably mythic Kiki and Herb. When asked about the famous theory that “after a nuclear war, the only living things left will be … cockroaches and Cher,” she replied, “I don’t know who said it, but I find it amusing. And it won’t be just me and the bugs. Kiki and Herb will be there too.”
“Kiki and Herb SLEIGH at BAM,” Nov. 30, Dec.1, Dec. 2, Dec. 4 at BAM’s Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton St in Fort Greene. 7:30 pm. Tickets start at $35, available online at bam.org.
This story first appeared on amNewYork.