PHOTO: Blue Man Group in concert in Montreal on September 25,
2008. (THE GAZETTE/ Pierre Obendrauf)
THE BLUE MAN GROUP REVISITED
Blue, blue, my ears are black and blue after attending the Blue Man Group’s How to Be a Megastar Tour 2.1 at the Bell Centre. (See photo gallery.)
It was a loud, visually dazzling, super-energetic, extremely interactive, highly percussive, multi-media show dominated by an eight-member rock band that didn’t seem to realize it wasn’t the headline act.
The band’s songs, with quirky, message-laden lyrics about lonely working stiffs, backed up by slick computer graphics on screens above the stage, didn’t send me rushing out to buy the album, or the DVD. I did enjoy the vocals of Adrian Hartley on a couple of songs (I Feel Love and a take on The Who’s Baba O’Riley, better known as Teenage Wasteland).
But Blue Man Group is the brand.
What began as a trio of talented improv-mime-comedian-musicians (Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink) long ago, is now, like the Cirque du Soleil, a multinational corporation that describes itself on its website as “a creative organization dedicated to created exciting and innovative work in a wide variety of media.”
In other words, they have watered the wine, created new rituals, widened their audience base up to the 12 million mark, world-wide.
When I first saw the original Blue Man Group performing in Greenwich Village in 1992, I was entranced. Their Tubes show was daring, innovative and very, very funny. I’d never seen anything quite like it before. It was art spoofing art. They splattered paint everywhere and wrapped the audience in toilet paper. The irony was sharp, the entertainment value high.
A few years ago, I saw another, scaled-up, Blue Man Group show in Las Vegas. Something had been lost in the journey to a large venue, but it was still the only show in Sin city capable of giving the omnipresent Cirque du Soleil a run for its money. The one weakness it had in competing with the Cirque was that it used unilingual English text on monitors, which lessened its appeal to international tourists. (Interesting to note that they stick to their English-only in Montreal, too. Wonder what they do in Germany?)
The Vegas show was still enjoyable. Which is why I was eager to see How to Be a Megastar Tour 2.1, even if the premise did sound pretty thin.
In this show, the blue guys, using a credit card borrowed from a member of the audience, order a manual on how to be a rock ’n roll megastar. What follows is loosely a lesson in that pursuit, with much participation from the audience. Skills being taught include hip-swaying, fist-pumping, use of accessories and make-up (a blue man eats a lipstick handed to him), etc. Simon Says for grown-ups.
The Blue Men are in constantly motion, drumming on a motley collection of percussive instruments that includes much plastic piping and an up-ended grand piano which is subjected to shocking abuse, and a whip-like rod that makes a disc-scratching kind of sound in the air.
At one point, they play a magic trick, disappearing in the dark then re-appearing as flickering silhouettes outlined in light. Wow!
Their best comedic bit involves donning televisions on their heads and flicking channels on each other’s screens.
The show could do with more wit and less leaning on the band -- and the cartoonish graphics, striking though they may be. But arena shows are arena shows. The space, to a certain extent, places limits on the material. You have to amplify, reach the cheap seats, appeal to the video game generation.
I’m glad I went to How to Be a Megastar Tour 2.1 And I remain a Blue Man fan. But in an arena, mimes vs. rock band is not an even battle. I wanted the blue guys to win. They merely held their own.
This isn’t a show for anyone who has a low tolerance for high-impact rock music. And if you can’t see the fun in creating a “wave” of waving arms across a stadium, you might as well stay home. It almost turns into an exercise class near the end of the show.
Backtracking a bit. The show begins well. Warm-up act David Garibaldi, who paints instant portraits of pop icons, while hopping to the music, did the job, with splatter-happy panache.
The Blue Man Group is a fascinating cultural phenomenon, performance art for the masses, improv mime gone Vegas, gone arena, gone multinational corporation. They now have 10 permanently based shows, worldwide, plus one touring show. Which just played Montreal.
Next stop? Tonight, Friday, Sept. 26, it plays the Pavilion de la Jeunesse in Quebec city.