OK, I’ll elaborate.
I had a vague idea of what to expect from this show. I’ve become a Blue Man fan in unusual fashion — through the music. My Launch player kicked up most of The Complex, and I’ve since downloaded a few of the songs that make sense outside the broader context of the show. I knew they were funny, and a couple of videos from their podcast had prepared me for the “Rock Concert Instruction Manual” that ties their gags together.
What I didn’t expect was that the show was also moving and occasionally intense, not just because six percussionists (three Blue, three not) were often flailing away. They hint at themes of alienation throughout the show and bring it to a crescendo in the moody titletrack to The Complex, accompanied by an animated video of a desperate office drone that Mrs. MMM compared, quite rightly, to The Wall. It sounds silly, but for a couple of minutes, you’re riveted with concern over the fate of an animated guy running down endless hallways, looking for some escape from the rat race that he now realizes has crushed his dreams outside the office.
But unlike Pink Floyd under Roger Waters’ bassbeat, the Blue Men have the right mix. They’re not wailing. They’re expressing desperation, but they’re also expressing sympathy for others who are desperate. When the man gets out of the office, he seems at first to be alone. The virtual camera pans out and finds others who have found the escape hatch.
Wikipedia generally isn’t the first place I’d check for figuring out deeper meaning in art, but someone has made the effort on The Complex: “The Complex takes place in two separate worlds, a world of rock as in the song “Time to Start”, and the urban isolation world, as in the songs “Sing Along”, “The Current”, and “The Complex”. Both worlds are then tied together in the song “What Is Rock”, which combines the ideals of the rock concert with the ideals of urban isolation.” (The Blue Men also offer a track-by-track take.) All of this makes much more sense in the live show, which both parodies a rock show and celebrates its ability to bring people out of their shells.
None of which would work if the band itself weren’t so danged good.
I was slightly disappointed to see the Group without Tracy Bonham, who made a small splash as a solo artist about 10-12 years ago and sings on a couple of Complex songs. She had been touring with them but apparently needed a break, as she explains on her amiable blog. I’ve already gushed over her vocal on Up to the Roof, which I think would be difficult to replicate. Fortunately, they’ve unearthed a good young vocalist in Adrian Hartley, who sounds uncannily like Bonham early in the song but personalizes it without sounding like some American Idol singer trying to impress Simon.
(If you hear that anyone on AI is attempting a Blue Man Group song, please let me know. If I had any kind of voice, I’d do it just to piss off Simon.)
In any case, Bonham’s absence was a mixed blessing. In addition to her vocals and violin duty for the Group, she was opening shows. I would’ve liked to have seen that, while Mrs. MMM would have raced for the hills upon hearing Mother, Mother. Instead, we got some sort of multimedia DJ named Mike Relm, who looked a little like Fred Armisen (*- footnote) but seemed more pleased with himself.
We missed half of Relm’s performance, though, because we were stuck in a massive traffic jam outside the university. Which leads to a final comforting thought.
Heading into the show, I had no idea just how popular Blue Man Group had become. Sure, they were in the Pentium ads, and they get the nod-and-wink cultural shoutouts from The Simpsons and Arrested Development, plus a residency in Vegas. (Conveniently close to one of this blog’s most loyal readers, who is probably shaking his head, saying “Dude, I’ve known about these guys for YEARS!”)
The traffic jam wasn’t just poor planning on George Mason’s part. The place was packed. We had a good view of the backs of Mason’s basketball banners. (The Final Four banner from last year was a few sections over.) Thousands of people were in the Patriot Center, all jumping, yelling, waving arms and head-bobbing along with a multimedia extravaganza about, in part, alienation.
And that made me feel a little less alienated.
(* — Armisen appeared in some of the video footage of the “Rock Concert Instruction Manual.” Between that and his live appearance in Aimee Mann’s vaudeville show, I’ve seen him in the last two concerts I’ve attended. Armisen is everywhere.)