Being an independent artist isn’t always the most financially rewarding career choice, so with the cupboards bare I jumped at the opportunity to help with the load in and out for the Blue Man Group show. At the very least, I stood to make some extra cash and maybe run into an afore mentioned Blue Man. Would I play it cool and act all aloof, or go with the obvious “Oh, hey, so, you’re one of them Blue Men.” I’d have to break the ice with some questions on industrial PVC percussion practices and after a longish pause, that should be taken as my queue to leave, I’ll begin stating my favourite colours of paint and why. I had this idea in my head that they would be in full costume the entire day, lurking, while all of us regular folk hauled in gear. You would go to move a road case and one would pop out from behind a pile of cables and scuttle off like a startled crab. It just so happens that they look like regular dudes without the paint, which really ruined the wonderful mental picture I had created.
The magnitude of the production was apparent when I pulled up to the venue in my tan 1998 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight (luxury personified), to see a convoy of semi trailers lined end to end for blocks. Inside I was greeted by a chaotic congregation of wide eyed folks eager to begin unloading the mountain of gear. It all seemed overly ambitious for 6 am. I was delegated to the electrical crew. No big deal. Set up a couple of lights, plug them in, hit up the craft service table for a bagel on my way out and I’ll be riding back to my house in the Olds in no time. I really thought I had the smallest of ideas as to what went into a large production such as this; I had not. The crew was like a well oiled machine. A magnificent feat of the industrial revolution made up of many small parts doing specific tasks to achieve greatness. It was like everyone had tunnel vision. You had to stay on your toes if you didn’t want to get crushed by some giant heavy piece of God knows what wheeling straight for you. Racks and beams were constantly lowered from the heavens. It was an onslaught from every direction. We hauled miles of cables out of case after case. I can’t tell you how much I hate cables. They’re always getting tangled into blood boiling rats nests. The day wireless power is commonplace and we emancipate ourselves from all of this nonsense will be a day of great rejoice for mankind alike.
It’s this kind of proficiency and automation necessary to get everything set up properly and in time for a show that same night. It was incredibly impressive to say the least. In eight busy hours the empty stage was transformed into a multimedia spectacle, combined with all sorts of industrial instrument creations. It’s what I would imagine an LSD trip to the hardware store to be like. The racks upon racks of lights illuminated a kaleidoscope of colours. PVC pipe was woven and intertwined to create a percussive pipe organ from the future. Large fans were coupled with rolls of tissue to be blown about. There were devices that spewed and splattered paint and protective ponchos for those in the first few rows. Two platforms sat on either side of the stage elevating the drummers twenty feet in the air, in between the giant video screen that acted as a backdrop. This was the set up for more than just a percussive display, but an interactive multimedia experience.
Walking out to the Olds at the end of the day, I couldn’t help but feel small. I’m most often just a guy with an acoustic guitar singing a dumb song about how I hate birds. I can’t stress enough how much I hate birds. We live in an age where it seems that everything has to be big and spectacular in order to hold an audiences attention. Right now, I’m gonna go ahead and blame Garth Brooks for launching out from underneath the stage and running around like a lunatic in the 90’s, but that wouldn’t be entirely fair to Garth (or is it Chris Gaines now?). Maybe I ought to head over to the hardware store and grab some various colours of paint. Yeah, I think I’m gonna do that! I’ll come home and rig the cans of paint to some kind of electromagnetic device that’s wired to my guitar. When I strum different chords, different colours of paint will jump out of the can creating a musical Jackson Pollack onto the white splatter suit I will adorn. Somehow, I just don’t think this will have the same effect. The world might need a guy strumming an acoustic guitar as much as it needs three crazy guys painted in blue, banging on pipes and oil drums. I may not be an awesome urban-industrial multimedia spectacular, and right now I really wish I was, but a good melody has been around since cavemen grunted out their neanderthalic hip-hop eons ago. There will always be an audience for people singing songs, despite the ever increasing need for consumption of all that is big and grandiose. After all of this reflection, I’ve developed a hankering for something larger than life to mesmerize and stimulate my senses. I hope there are still tickets available for tonight’s show!
J.R. Louis is an independent singer/songwriter from Southern Alberta and co-founder of Oceanman Records.