one man two man three man blue man

I’ve wanted to see them for years. We thought about it in Vegas, we forgot about it in Chicago, and we didn’t have time for it in New York. When the Complex Tour came to Toronto, I slapped my money down on the barrelhead and said “Gimme Blue Man Group tickets”. Last night they played the Sears Theatre at the Air Canada Centre with special guests Tracy Bonham and VenusHum.

First, before I really get started, let me just get this out of the way so it doesn’t give you the impression that I disliked the show: there were annoyances in the crowd. Flyerman (who my be familiar to those of you living in Toronto) was in attendance, and he’d periodically fire up his flashing jacket until security got hold of him. Most annoying, though, was the father and son behind us. The kid hadn’t learned to speak at anything less than a high-pitched yell (even though he was 6; I learned his age when he screamed it into his father’s cell phone), even when the theatre was dead quiet. The father, in addition to singing loudly and badly throughout, just encouraged the kid. The hellion had a special talent, something I can only guess his father had been training him to do, possibly for military use, possibly to appear as a stupid human trick on Letterman in the future. His special talent was to emit the most horrifying, piercing, hair-raising scream I’ve ever heard. I’m talking Banshee-from-the-X-men, Buffy-in-the-Hush-episode, Ned-Flanders-from-the-Simpsons quality screaming here. This kid had no gonads, I’m sure of it. And he screamed constantly, to the point where I got a bad headache. The lady sitting next to me actually ducked for cover whenever he let fly with another shriek. If I ever see the wee fucker on the street, I’ll pre-emptive strike his ass. But enough about that.

I was really happy that Tracy Bonham was opening since I’ve been a fan for 7 or 8 years now. She came on at 8:00, carrying only a fiddle, and launched into “Black Dog”. Never before have I heard Led Zeppelin done only with voice and fiddle, but there it was…and it was awesome. After that she brought out two band members, and they played a nice little set of four or five songs before blowing my mind completely. One guy grabbed his guitar, the other took out a set of spoons, Tracy picked up her fiddle and they proceeded to play “50 Ft. Queenie” by PJ Harvey. I think there were only about 10 of us in the crowd who even knew what the song was. Jaysus. I would’ve paid $30 just to see Tracy Bonham’s 30-minute set.

Recipe for VenusHum: One part Bjork, one part Enya, one part Esthero and one part Underworld. Mix well. Pour down sink. Pour shot of whiskey instead and call for Tracy Bonham to come back out.

After the unfortunate VenusHum incident, there was a 20-minute break. We were kept entertained by a pair of feisty LED readouts until the lights went down, and then the show started for real. This tour was different than most Blue Man Group performances in that it’s a true concert, with a large backing band and light show. The Blue Men themselves play percussion (beating on moveable pipes, hitting giant kettle drums and exploded pianos with maces, whipping antenna-like sticks to create different tones, whipping a tube to keep a quater-note beat, etc.) and interact with the crowd, the band plays and sings and so on, and the other component is the instruction coming from the giant video screen (e.g., “Standard concert movement #1: the head bob. Ready, go.”; “Standard concert movement #2: the one-armed fist pump. Ready, go.”; “Standard concert movement #5: the big entrance.”, etc.), which was often very funny. Basically, it was a rock concert making fun of the rock concert genre, so I loved it.

The music itself wasn’t spectacular, except for the drumming. The covers of “White Rabbit” and the Donna Summer song “I Feel Love”, featuring Tracy Bonham and VenusHum respectively, were good, but the real highlight was when they broke out Baba O’Riley during the encore (“Standard concert movement #26: the fake ending.”). The Blue Men had these big multi-pipe harnesses so they could play the intro, and the crowd went nuts. Tracy sang, and played the fiddle part at the end. The whole outfit rocked us into a standing ovation; we stayed there for the final song, which encouraged many standard concert movements.

I wanna be a Blue Man.

They were all for swinging us around

Jimmy Swaggart once declared music to be “the new pornography”. I immediately declared Jimmy Swaggart to be a flaming idiot, but Carl Newman’s a little more understanding than that, so he just swiped the subtext of the soundbite and formed his side-project band.

And so, last night Mike and I polished off our beers and walked down to The Phoenix to catch the result, the New Pornographers. Through the gay village and past the crack park, to Grandmother’s house we went, with visions of Neko Case dancing in our heads. We arrived in time to catch The Organ; I thought they sounded like The Cure done badly, and I fucking hate The Cure. I’m sure there were some shoegazer girls in the crowd digging on it, but they put me right to sleep.

At 11:00 (punctual…I like it) the New Pornographers took the stage and proceeded to sound the alarm on my little Organ-inspired nap. They rocked. I always like a new CD more after I hear it in concert. Even “Testament to Youth in Verse”, a song I normally have no time for, seemed to work live, especially the little wanky singalong at the end. It amazed me to really think about how complex Carl Newman’s songs are…even in semi-radio-friendly songs like “Letter From An Occupant” or “All For Swinging You Around”, the song shifts themes three or four times. Neko Case…what can I say? She’s incredibly talented (though you don’t see much of that talent in this setting), she’s got the most distinctive voice this side of Tom Waits, she’s hotter than all get out and she really makes this band. Carl Newman is the brains, but Neko’s the pretty face (figuratively speaking)…the flash, the part that grabs the eye and sets the ear to itching. Blaine Thurier, on the other hand, is hilarious. He hasn’t a shred of musical talent (only being admitted to the band ’cause he’s Carl Newman’s friend…he’s a filmmaker for chrissakes!), he’s about as tall as my cat and the way he dances suggests he’s on strings. Honestly, I think they put him there to occasionally take everyone’s eyes off of Neko.

They played about 20 songs in total, pretty much all of Electric Version and most of Mass Romantic, and threw in a cover (which, sadly, I didn’t recognize, nor am I able to remember the words this morning, but given their history it was probably The Kinks) to close the encore. I think they actually came back out for another encore as we were leaving, but I left happy. They’d played every song I wanted to hear and more. Good concert. Well done. And so, in closing, Neko Neko Neko Neko Neko Neko Neko. Neko Neko. Neko Neko Neko Neko. Neko, everybody. Neko.