Saturday, November 6, 2010

Great Moments in WTF: Yard Dogs Road Show

I don't go to very many live shows.  Attending most shows requires knowing about them well in advance, remembering to buy tickets for them, and not falling asleep that afternoon (all mistakes I've been known to make).  If you do manage to make it there, you've got to put up with hordes of fellow-show-goers who haven't showered and are probably going to start smoking pot at some point or another (at least in Eugene, anyway), while your ears sit at the mercy of the sound engineer and his own unusual ideas about the proper volume levels of various microphones.  When you've got three hundred and forty hours of recorded music at your fingertips, going out to watch some local punks can just seem so unnecessary.

But then again, there are some times in a young man's life when he must do something weird for no particular reason.  Governed fitfully as I am by this ethos, I perused the web pages of a few venues and, on the basis of a bizarre name (Yard Dogs Road Show) and about twenty seconds of eccentric music from their MySpace page, selected a Friday eight o'clock show at the historic W.O.W. Hall.  I gave my girlfriend a call and made the date, with only the vaguest idea of what hijinx I'd gotten us into.

After forgetting the name of the band at the ticket vendor ("Radio Dogs?") and realizing on site that the concert didn't actually start until nine, I began to wonder if my lack of serious research had been a mistake.  The fates were aligned with us, however, and gave us a handful of intriguing opening acts: a merry band of street performers outside the venue, a folk duo called The Dela Project (who really love their multi-track recording), and Luminessa, which turned out not to be a band but a trio of improvisational belly dancers.  We managed to get close to front row seats for all of this; the seats were on the floor, but in the front nonetheless.

I had very little idea of what was going to happen next, but the combination of Luminessa's gyrations and the circus-style stage art should have given me a hint or two.  Yard Dogs Road Show, it turns out, is a colorful troupe of thirteen modern-day vaudevillians who incorporate comedy and magic tricks into what is, for all concerned, a mesmerizing evening of WTF.

The Yard Dogs, in classic cabaret style, don't really have breaks between their songs, or at least not very many.  The bulk of the band stopped playing only three or four times, including once at the start to cordially invite the audience to bum-rush the stage.  Other small breaks allowed for changes of instruments or costumes (there were a lot of these), or the introduction of new characters into their fantastical human menagerie.  Featured repeatedly throughout were the Black and Blue Burlesque Girls, Tobias the Mystic Man, and the hair metal hero "Guitar Boy," fresh out of his five hundredth-plus stay in rehab and visibly high on something much like life.

It was difficult to pin down the Yard Dogs, because as steeped as they were in kitsch and nostalgia, they were also genuinely anarchic and surprising.  Three numbers in, as four performers left the stage to remove their wind-up doll costumes, guitarist EEnor Wild Boar (I swear to God that's how they spell it), who had previously hung back and quietly played rhythm, strode forward and asked if we'd like to go to space.  Receiving a favorable response, he proceeded to take us on the most psychedelic launch sequence this side of Syd Barrett, before removing his pants to reveal an even shinier pair of pants.

Mere moments later we were apparently back on Earth, or wherever the hell Pineapple Land is, to be introduced to the Pineapple Queen and her all-encompassing benevolence.  Tobias the Mystic Man later emerged from behind his eccentric percussion and sound effect stand to completely swallow the following: a thirty seven inch sword, a chair leg(!?!), and a glowing red rod.  Upon his eventual return he swallowed an entire circus balloon, then proceeded to remove from his mouth an enormous strand of ribbons, cotton balls, and eventually a live chicken.  Whether Tobias' mystic powers extend beyond his mouth was not revealed.

With the distinct smell of certain banned substances in the air, I had to wonder if I was imagining some of this; but it was all there, ten feet from my face in a furious swirl of color.  And to sweeten all the spectacle even further, the music was good; not merely adequate to the occasion, but enhancing it seamlessly and beautifully.  The lead vocalists (a good mix of males and females) are all very strong and unique, and most importantly they are playful, gleefully interacting with the sounds and characters surrounding them.  The whole show was very funny, sometimes without even trying in its explicitly comedic bits: it simply overflowed with joy.

The band came out for an encore (because bands always come out for an encore, and between you and me  it's really kind of silly for them to always pretend that they're done when they're not) and played two songs. The last of these featured an extended rap/exhortation from erstwhile bassist Micah D-Liscious, calling on the entire audience to begin making love to one another immediately, and then shooting off on a rant about how dirty-minded we were as a society for taking a beautiful phrase like "making love" and reducing it to base sexuality.  He concluded his paean to universal love by inviting the entire audience to line up single-file for a chance to "sit next to" him in the back of the hall after the show.  We decided it would probably be better just to leave.

The Yard Dogs have an album, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend buying it for its own sake.  These guys put on a consummate stage show, and listening to the music without its corresponding visuals seems almost criminal.  If they should ever put out a DVD, I would definitely recommend that, but the viewer would still be missing some of that frenetic music-hall style.  For pure entertainment, you can't do much better than to go completely bananas with a band like the Yard Dogs.

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