Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Blue Man Group worth a look, if not a listen

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

They haven't gone as far as Kiss and removed the makeup, but the Blue Man Group has entered into a questionable new phase in its career.

The performance artists have crossed over to the rock market, and their show at Riverbend on Sunday night proved the trio is not yet a match for your favorite frontman, guitar hero or arena act.

That's not to say the concert wasn't entertaining. It was, but not for the music, which was mostly percussive and bland. The Blue Man Group's irreverent act provided the entertainment; rock music simply provided a new medium. The BMG could pull the same laughs hosting a cable-TV cooking show or leading a ballet troupe.

The Blue Man Group might be best known from a series of computer ads as the three bald-and-blue guys who don't speak. Those spots offered a peek into their routine, which is essentially banging PVC pipe and fittings with drumsticks and sporting bemused expressions on their painted faces.

Sunday, the act was expanded to include such things as a cover of a Who song and a poignant musical reflection on 9-11. Those were the highlights. Much of the rest came off like a cross between Marcel Marceau and the percussion-based stage production Stomp.

The back-up band included two guitar players, a bassist, a keyboardist, and - as if the BMG's own homemade-instrument thumping wasn't enough - a drummer and three percussionists. A loud, straight-ahead rhythm prevailed. Memorable songcraft was scarce.

The show was styled as a "rock-concert manual for would-be rock stars." Each Man listened intently between songs as a voice offered them a step-by-step guide. ("Start by loosening your pelvis.")

It was a clever way to acknowledge the Group's foray into the rock world, and it made for the show's best moments. The voice told them to pay tribute to those who've come before them, and they followed with snippets of Devo, Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zeppelin and Jefferson Airplane. The voice said to say hello to people in the cheap seats, so they made a mad dash for the far-away sections of the pavilion to do just that.

Since they don't talk, they don't sing, so they relied on guest vocalists. Tracy Bohnam, one of the opening acts, sang the Who's "Baba O'Riley" and played the fiddle part. Annette Strean from Venus Hum, the other opener, did a version of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" that was upstaged by her outfit: an electrified dress with flashing horizontal stripes, which further proved the Blue Man Group is a visual, not an aural, experience.


E-mail cvarias@enquirer.com

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