[UPDATED]Last night, we put the July issue to bed, and with it went the immediate demands that kept me from writing about recent shows. Here’s the quick wrap-up in reverse order:
Sunday night, Rob Riggle was at House of Blues in a show set up because he’s in town shooting the remake of 21 Jump Street. The jokes of the opening comedians, particularly Sean O’Connor, were more perfectly crafted, but Riggle’s physicality and commitment made his set far funnier than it would be on the page. There were few lines that you could nick and get laughs with yourself unless you were prepared to stomp and lurch around the stage with manic intensity. Still, there was more craft in his set than was initially obvious. The jerk-off monkey story was brilliantly over the top, while the story of seeing his teenage crush having sex was sweet in its way.
Last Wednesday night, I thought the Bootsy Collins show at Tipitina’s was just really good. It didn’t become transcendent like the best George Clinton shows I’ve seen, but it was far more consistently entertaining than Clinton shows have been for a decade. The band included P-Funk stalwarts Bernie Worrell, Blackbyrd McKnight, Razor Sharp Johnson and Frankie Kash, so it knew how to be funky, but I could have used a few more moments like McKnight’s acid guitar solo on “Maggot Brain.”
But the last hour of the show felt special, perhaps because I’d heard the rumor from more than one source that this was Bootsy’s last tour. When he took off the big Bootsy hat and the glam jacket and got down to a black T-shirt and a doo-rag on his head (though still in star shades), it felt like he was stepping out of his persona and enjoying the moment. He got the audience to split down the middle at Tipitina’s and went in, not just high-fiving people or shaking hands but hugging fans and letting them hug him. The sense that was his going away party was heightened by the profound hugs onstage between the P-Funk alums as Bootsy introduced them. Whatever the case, I’ve rarely seen an artist at the end of a show appear to be so in love with the moment without seeming in love with himself.
Rush’s show at the New Orleans Arena was more than a week ago, but I had to go out of town and couldn’t get to it, though it seemed like I couldn’t get away from Rush either. On a plane – Air Canada, of course! – there was in-flight television and one of the offering was Classic Albums about 2112 and Moving Pictures. When I got back, I saw a live show shot in Germany on the Snakes and Arrows tour on television. The world immediately around me, it seems, has gone Rush Crazy.
This was my first time seeing the band since 1978 when they’d become too prog for me, so many things startled me, not the least of which is that there were women at the show. Many of them, and not just ones enduring the show with their boyfriends or husbands. I assume it’s because Rush rocks without being particularly macho, or maybe they just love the spectacle of people playing air drums. I can’t think of another show during which you could look around and see someone play an air drum fill at almost any point in the show. The love of Neil Peart’s playing is pretty hardcore, and some people – okay, guys – were not only playing air drums but air guitar too, switching air instruments in mid-song.
Peart’s drum solo was impressive, not only because he can really play but because it had a bit of the band’s daffiness that’s a part of the band’s live shows to undercut the otherwise oppressive seriousness of the band’s music. After playing for a while, I assume Peart hit a switch and the kit rotated around him 180 degrees, leaving a whole new set of drums and temple blocks in front of him, giving him an opportunity to play a more Asian-flavored solo. Then, when that thought had run its course, the kit rotated again. This time, I suspect that he activated triggers so that his last solo sounded as if he was part of a big band, horn blasts corresponding with cymbal strikes.
The stage and the accompanying video had a steampunk flavor, but just as Rush his hard without being macho, the set was steampunk without a hint of goth. The animation on the video screen recalled Terry Gilliam’s work for Monty Python but without his flirtation with the iconography of sexual repression. In short, the only menace in the set was posed by the Transformers-like light rig over the stage, which occasionally threaten to scoop up Alex Lifeson very, very slowly in a well-illuminated move.
Musically, it was Rush. Everything was well-played, and a lot of the material still holds up. In concert if you don’t know all the words, it’s easy to miss how ponderous Peart’s lyrics can be, though it was a little unsettling to hear the mass singalong during the chorus of “Temples of Syrinx.” Weren’t the priests the bad guys?
But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun. It’s still hard to understand the depth of some people’s love for the band, but Rush is easy enough to like.
UPDATE: June 23, 9:15 a.m.
Music industry commentator Bob Lefsetz wrote yesterday about seeing Rush in Los Angeles. In his letter, he wrote:
I tweeted I was there, and mikesavage123 snarkily tweeted back: “My guess? 6000 40 year-old men, 21 women.”
I immediately turned around and started scanning the venue. There were a ton of men there. Fewer women than you might see at an average show, and some were obviously dragged by their significant others, but the rest of them…were into it!
That was what was positively stunning. You’d turn around and everybody knew the words. They were playing air guitar. My favorites were the father and son in the row behind me. The dad was one of those barrel-chested fortysomething guys drinking beer…and playing every note on his imaginary axe. But even better was his towheaded not even ten year old son. He was playing every lick too. And like his dad, singing every word!
Fathers and sons. Rush isn’t something evanescent, it’s something you get hooked by and stick with. You go to show after show, you buy the merch.
The show had just begun but seemingly everybody was decked out in a shirt. During intermission I went up to the stand to check out the offerings but I couldn’t even get close, they were packed five deep.
I’d neglected to mention the T-shirts. Everybody had one. A woman in front of me wore some mini-dress to the show, then bought a T-shirt and wore it over her dress.
UPDATE: June 24, 11:48 a.m.
One of the Bootsy Collins photos said he was standing with Blackbyrd McKnight. In fact, the man in the photo is Frankie “Kash” Waddy. The cutline has been changed to reflect this.