For 17 years Jeannine Frank has been booking an amazing array of stand-up and musical comedians, political satirists, cabaret, folk and jazz artists, historical shows, monologists and authors. Her Parlor Performances, called an “accidental performing arts series,” used to use the living rooms of people living in Los Angeles. She now books acts in Steinway Hall in West Los Angeles. And her recent pairing of the brilliant, unique musical duo The Prince Myshkins and comedian Betsy Salkind did not disappoint.
The Myshkins are singer/songwriters Rick Burkhardt on accordion and Andy Gricevich on guitar. It’s easy to explain the name of the band as a reference to a Doestoevsky character. But their songs? Dazzlingly fast, complex, socio-political songs with musical changes that would leave Kurt Weill smiling and shaking his head with jealousy. A song begins with a legalese disclaimer spoken aloud by Burkhardt and turns into a wild musical ride. “Nail Clippers” sends up the limitations to airline passengers. “Mimi LaValley and 100 Nuns” is the hilariously upbeat retelling of activist sisters marching onto a military base in protest and paralyzing the soldiers with confusion.
The Myshkins leave one’s mouth gaping with their rapid-fire hilarity but significantly, they also have penned what I consider to be the greatest anti-war song in the history of music, “Ministry of Oil.” As Burkhardt’s hypnotic, mournful accordion plays, Gricevich sings, in part, “How much do you suppose that artwork sold for/As their last remaining food began to spoil/The situation’s bad/ But no place in Baghdad/Is safer than the Ministry of Oil.”
Opening for the Magnificent Myshkins was Betsy Salkind, whose Julie Eisenhower outfit belied her salty and outrageous wit. She insisted that despite her Jewish heritage, she was now a Christian Scientist. “It’s the only health plan I can afford.” She admits to being too immature to raise kids. “I get up at 7 PM and work for fifteen minutes.” Despite all this, Salkind writes a blog in the voice of fifth grader Ethel Spiliotes. Well, as Salkind insisted at Steinway Hall, kids are important. They allow you to use the carpool lane on the freeway.