By Michael Barbieri***As a critic, I’m afforded the opportunity to see some wonderful performers. There are times, however, when I see someone in a brilliant new light, and their performance is eye-opening in a way I never expected. In this very way, Tanya Moberly’s tribute to The Beatles and Led Zeppelin was a revelation!
I’ve known Tanya Moberly for years. Until now, however, I had only known her as a director—and a very good director at that. I knew she was a singer, but had never seen one of her cabaret shows. After her performance at Don’t Tell Mama, I found myself wondering why it took me so long to see her do something at which she is so phenomenally good!
This show was part of her 2022 residency, wherein two performances each month are dedicated to a specific artist or artists. The series includes six different shows, each with a different Musical Director. In this case, she and pianist Ian Herman showcased the music of two iconic bands: Led Zeppelin and The Beatles—a daunting undertaking, but one which Moberly and Herman lived up to spectacularly!
The magic in this show lay in it’s simplicity. One wouldn’t think a singer and pianist, alone onstage, could pay proper tribute to these two bands, but the concept worked beautifully. The song list I was given at the start of the night seemed terribly long… on paper. But Moberly’s minimalist approach allowed her to cram a huge amount of material into an hour-long time frame that never once lagged!
Moberly set the tone instantly with her opener, a rocking, soulful take on Lennon & McCartney’s “She’s a Woman.” With a vocal sound reminiscent of two other kick-ass singers, Janis Joplin and Sharon McNight, she gave us a driving rendition of “I Feel Fine,” which segued into “Can’t Buy Me Love.” The latter number included a vocal roar that was her version of the howl which precedes the guitar solo on The Beatles original recording. While the material, particularly the Lennon-McCartney songs were unmistakably familiar, Moberly made each number uniquely her own: “I’ve Just Seen a Face” had an almost country western/honky-tonk feel. “Fixing a Hole” was honest and far less trippy than the original and “I’m Only Sleeping” had a nearly conversational tone. Her renditions of “I Will” and “I’ll Be Back” took her in a softer, more romantic direction, and although “Things We Said Today” was performed uptempo, I sensed a serious undertone that balanced the show wonderfully.
As a kid, I was never a fan of Led Zeppelin. As an adult, however, I’ve acknowledged their importance and legendary status in rock history. Moberly’s Led Zeppelin selections were less familiar to me, so I appreciated her interpretations, which were not only entertaining, but enlightening. Her delivery of “All My Love” was honest and sweet, and with its underlying, rolling tempo, she found the truth in “That’s the Way.” I should also mention Ian Herman’s thunderous piano solo on “Moby Dick,” a track fashioned primarily as a drum solo by Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.
In an evening that was truly captivating, there were several standout moments. Her “Beatles Babes” medley began with “Martha, My Dear,” during which she navigated the odd tempo shifts admirably. She then moved on to “Sexy Sadie,” Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Lovely Rita” and others. Her take on “Eleanor Rigby” showed off not only Moberly’s lovely vocals, but her acting skills as well, and with the medley’s finale—“Polythene Pam/She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” she got down and funky, bringing out the humor and irony in the lyric!
One of the most outstanding numbers was The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” a song written as a plea to Prudence Farrow—Mia Farrow’s sister—whose obsession with meditation caused her to isolate herself from her friends. Moberly’s emotional connection to the song version was clear. Her performance was heartbreaking, mesmerizing and embodied the tragedy of losing a friend to any sort of obsession, including substance abuse, which was the takeaway of a friend of mine who had gone through addiction issues of his own.
Then there was Moberly’s majestic “Stairway to Heaven!” From Ian Herman’s piano variation of the famous guitar intro, to the wildly mystical vocals and even her own take on Robert Plant’s characteristic vocal wail, I’d have to say that this was possibly the finest rock and roll cover I’ve ever seen in cabaret! The dense, complex lyrics, while still confounding, made a sort of sense in this context. Herman’s resounding accompaniment brought even more strength to Moberly’s already powerful vocal and this absolutely breathtaking number was the perfect closer, bringing the crowd to its feet!
Tanya Moberly commanded the stage at Don’t Tell Mama. While she is not a big woman, her stage presence is enormous and although they were alone onstage, she and Ian Herman filled the room with some of the best rock music ever written. To quote The Beatles, “all you need is love.” Well, I’m certain you’ll love Tanya Moberly!
Tanya Moberly returns in July and August, singing Sondheim and Schwartz; in September and October with the music of Pat Benatar, Chrissie Hynde and Annie Lennox; and again in November and December with her tribute to Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman. For info, go to www.donttellmamanyc.com