Thursday, March 22, 2007

PVC: For Plumbing or Percussion?

Sunday night, as I rolled over many miles of pavement, I pondered what words to put here. Not “what words” in the writer’s block sense, where I’ve got nothing to say. But instead how I could describe what I saw last weekend.

I was in Chicago to attend a show by the cult phenomenon known as Blue Man Group. And when people ask me how I liked the show, I don’t know what I’ll say. Because, “ was really, really good,” doesn’t even begin to shed the right light on it.

How do you explain a group that runs an LED single-line scroll bar on the sides of the stage before the show, announcing that there will be no intermission, so to avoid inconveniencing other audience members, it would be best to make a trip to the “comfort stations” before the show begins?

What do you say about a group that also forces you to take a “no-photos pledge,” threatening the use of ejector-seat mechanisms in your chair should you break that pledge? (my camera was around my neck, but the lens cap never came off.)

How do you explain a show in which arm-length strands of white crepe paper are handed out to all audience members before the show without instructions, and 85 percent of the crowd instinctively wraps them around their heads as headbands. Makes for a pretty cool-looking group when the black lights are turned on.

How do yoWhat are YOU lookin' at?u explain a trio of bald men dressed in loose-fitting black sweatshirts and sweatpants, their heads covered in blue latex paint...wide-eyed, silent yet expressive, quizzical...banging on PVC pipes and paint-splattering drums to create some of the most infectious rhythms around?

How do you explain an audience-participation skit in which a teenage boy is nabbed from the audience, dressed in white coveralls and a black snowmobile helmet, led backstage and strung up by his ankles, his front side slathered in blue paint with rollers and brushes, and then swung against an empty white canvas to make abstract body art?

How do you explain the Blue Men attempting to woo another audience member by impressing her with gifts such as romantic candlelight, fine art, flowers, Twinkies and...Jell-O. (Speaking of which, how do you explain a group that has on its staff an actual Jell-O consultant?)

And how do you explain getting a glimpse of the jealous side of the Blue Men, and their actions when they turn against each other in their fight for the young lady’s affections?

How do you explain a skit featuring almost exclusively the amplified crunching sounds of Cap’n Crunch cereal?

How do you explain a 40-tube pipe organ/xylophone-type thing named simply, “the PVC instrument,” which mysteriously changes from white to pink and orange and lime green and blue under the black lights, and when struck with foam rubber paddles can play tunes from the likes of Ozzy Ozbourne, Madonna and Lynrd Skynrd?

How do you explain a thundering bass from an instrument that is just as simply named, “the Big Drum”? It’s description in the CD liner notes reads: “...a really big drum that is hit with a really big mallet.” How big is the mallet, you ask? In response to the clichéd question, “Is it bigger than a bread box?”, the answer would be, “ohhhh yes it is!!”

How do you explain roll after roll and stream after stream of white crepe paper being unrolled and passed from the back row of the 650-person audience all the way up to the stage, row by row, while being bombarded with strobe lights and more booming bass and PVC rhythms?

How, I wondered, as I replayed the concert over and over in my mind. How do you explain all of this, and so...much...more?

You don’t.

You simply tell people to go buy a ticket, and prepare themselves for the oddest, most entertaining, most uniquely percussive assault on their senses they’ve ever received.

(Please share any and all accounts of firsthand sightings of the Blue Men in the comments section. I'm anxious to hear about what other people have seen.)

Random final thought: Do the members of Blue Man Group have Blue Man Groupies?

[By the way, two of the photos in this entry were taken by me. And two...were not. I'll let you decide which are which.]

“Blueness doth express trueness.”
—Ben Johnson


  1. My mind boggled while reading, I wonder what would happen if I bought that ticket and actually went? As for the pictures... you took ONE and TWO!!!

    Thanks for the morning brew-ha-ha

  2. I took No. 1 and No. 2. The Blue Men were, surprisingly, hanging out in the lobby after the show, posing for photos. So that's how I got the shot of him. Well...I should say, how my brother-in-law got the shot of him. If I hadn't cropped in so close on that photo, you'd find me on Mr. Blue Man's left, and my nephew on Mr. Blue Man's right.

    I'm actually glad that they didn't allow photos in the theatre, or I would have spent half my time trying to take a zillion pics, and would have missed out on just soaking it all in.