Force of Nature
Storm Large lets her bawdy side loose for a whirlwind cabaret show in Santa Monica
By Stephanie Case
Storm Large begins a YouTube video about her memoir with an answer to the question everyone’s asking.
“Yes, it is really my name,” she assures, likely for the thousandth time.
It’s a one-of-a-kind moniker that evokes equal parts superhero and rock star — and she looks the part.
Six feet tall and tattooed, with watermelon pink waves and cherry-colored lips, Large is at home towering behind a microphone, whether it’s at a dive bar or the Kennedy Center.
“If Lenny Bruce looked like a Vargas pin-up and could sing as quietly as Emiliana Torrini and as loud as Bruce Dickinson [of Iron Maiden], that’s sort of me on stage,” she explains.
Tomorrow night at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, Large is set to perform a cabaret act with a gleefully punny title: “Taken by Storm.”
The show, which she’s touring around the globe with her band, is a swirl of bawdy jokes and ruminations on love and heart- break, a curious juxtaposition.
Her cover songs suggest the torrid and the luscious: Nina Simone’s “Forbidden Fruit,” Sting’s “Sacred Love.” “Ne me quitte pas,” she trills in French: “Don’t leave me.”
Large’s voice has a deep, vibrant timbre, like that of a 1950s starlet. Her slinky silk dresses, trailing across the stage, harken back to Old Hollywood glamour.
But between songs, the Lenny Bruce bursts out of the Vargas pin-up; the illusion of glamour is swapped for something real.
“I’m a huge dork with zero mystique [and] totally at home on stage,” she says.
“A lot of people get into music and performing because it looks like artists and performers are super cool — sexy, untouchable, beautiful or tragic figures with unbelievably glamorous lives. … I never had the ability nor desire to swirl some guile or charms between me and the audience.”
Even when she’s singing Cole Porter in a gown, Large is still as bitingly authentic as she was in her thirties as a punky, full-throated Portland rocker. Back then, Large played regular gigs at nightclubs with her backing group, the Balls. They were known for their offbeat takes on classic songs; once, she warped Olivia Newton-John’s sugary “Hopelessly Devoted to You” into a so-called “serial stalker” anthem, belting each word with comically manic eyes and bared teeth. “I wanted to be Joey Ramone, not Judy Garland,” she wrote in her 2011 memoir, “Crazy Enough.”
In 2006, Large was a contestant on the American Idol-esque reality show “Rock Star: Supernova,” where she sang Cheap Trick, Evanescence and Aerosmith for votes. She came in fifth and lost – but won over a sea of new fans.
In 2011, she landed her biggest break yet — as second lead vocalist in Pink Martini, an orchestral band that constantly defies genre. Together, the Portland-based group is a cocktail of rock, classical, jazz and pop, stirred with a Latin twist.
In the five years since, Pink Martini has helped Large explore new musical styles.
“[I’ve sung] music in languages I would never have even heard of otherwise,” she says.
The single catch: learning “how to curb my Ferdinand the Bull of R-rated observations on stage,” she jokes.
In her solo work, Large lets her hard rock roots blend with other styles, and within those moments, she shines. Her last two albums, 2009’s “Crazy Enough” and 2014’s “Le Bonheur,” tacked the songs of Pixies, Black Sabbath, Lou Reed and Tom Waits with a chanteuse croon that sometimes erupts into a powerhouse, rock ‘n’ roll wail.
Large is an undeniable musical chameleon. But with a name, a look and a voice like that, she’ll never blend into a crowd.
Storm Large performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26, at The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $55 to $85. Call (310) 434-3200 or visit thebroadstage.com.