Thursday, July 17, 2014

Blue Man Group




Have you ever thought the Smurfs should have their own performance art installation?

Boy, I sure have.  Only I found that the reality far surpasses the mental concept.

Decades ago, one of my brothers Ahab Pope came to me raving about Blue Man Group.  He tried describing it to me, the beats, the art, the multimedia aspects, and ended up giving up.  "You just have to see it," he said finally.

So last week I did just that at the Astor Place Theatre in New York City.  Afterward, I wondered why I waited so long.  Yet I find myself facing the same difficulty as Ahab in describing to you something so creative, so multi-layered, and so avant garde, but I will try.

Blue Man Group is centered around three performers in blue skull caps and faces covered in blue makeup.  These cyanotic humanoids are aware of the audience, regarding them with an innocent sense of wonder.  At various points in the show, the trio climb over the audience seats, searching and inspecting like strange visitors to this planet, fascinated in all they find.  Any form of technology or even more commonplace objects such as water bottles are sources of wonder for them.  They are gentle outsiders.  During it all however, there seems to be one of the trio that acts in discord with the other two, repeatedly doing his own thing and receiving silent, judgmental stares from his compatriots.  An outsider within outsiders?

The stage the trio inhabit is one of sensory overload.  It is a technological society coming unglued at seams.  Pipes wind their way around the stage and into the audience while images of fractals, the DNA helix, cybernetics, and Internet memes are broadcast on multiple viewscreens.  At one point, three iPhones lower from the ceiling, each one taller than a person.  Each iPhone displays different messages streaming at high speeds.  The audience is forced to choose which stream of information to follow or else end up catching nothing.  One is "great literature done in tweets" that aims to "do for reading what texting did for driving." Love it.  This is art for the transhuman set.  While this has all been done before to the point of tautology, Blue Man Group makes it all fresh.  The innocence of the three humanoids in the face of the techno explosion combined with their fascination brings a new perspective.  The modern world is an exhilarating spectacle while simultaneously being disturbing.

Musically, the Blue Men turn whatever is on their stage...the pipes, the barrels, or what have you...into musical instruments.  They bang upon them all like drums, at times splashing paint of multiple fluorescent hues onto canvases or themselves.  The original music itself is a whole other level of greatness.

First of all, there is a live house band.  They sit up above the stage in a glass-enclosed mezzanine level while wearing black jumpsuits and fluorescent, day-glo body paint, resembling something from Rob Zombie's band.  The music itself is naturally based around heavy, almost Japanese-style percussion infused with the kind of guitar-synthesizer blends that I absolutely adore.  This renders pieces similar to the best parts of Nine Inch Nails, Moby, Devo, The Knife, and so many others.  In fact, why read me writing about it when you can get a taste of it for yourself?  Here's Blue Man Group with Venus Hum covering Donna Summer's "I Feel Love."  It's a fine sampling of the BMG sound.




Better yet, here's "Rods and Cones." It's one I saw them do live.  I squirmed in my seat, pumped my fist, and at times banged my head.





I also came across their rendition of "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane.  It is, in my humble opinion, a vast improvement over the hippie standard.  I can't embed it here, but you can find it on YouTube.

At last the show came to an end in a paroxysm of strobe lighting, glow sticks, thunderous beats, driving guitars, techno-industrial distortion, Twinkies launched from plumbing pipes and toilet paper streaming from the balconies.

The summation of my review?  This will not be the last time I see Blue Man Group.

I even had the opportunity to meet and befriend one of the humanoids:







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