This blogger may have to burn his Rock Snob card, for I just watched and enjoyed the Blue Man Group concert film The Complex Rock Tour Live. I’d long assumed that the Blue Man Group’s seemingly permanent residency on Lafayette Street in downtown Manhattan was some kind of tourist trap like Mars 2112 or Jekyll and Hyde, but now I’m wishing I had looked closer.
For any others that may also have prematurely dismissed them, the Blue Man Group is equal parts performance art collective, percussion ensemble, and, well, blue. The Complex Rock Tour DVD captures the group live in 2002, with a show that is at once both an actual rock concert and an ironic commentary upon one.
I had to fight the suspicion throughout that a blue-clad trio of catburglars had slipped into my apartment and raided my cd collection. As I watched, I started to compile in my head a list of artists that must have been influences:
- Emergency Broadcast Network. Now defunct, EBN was a trailblazing multimedia performance group that fused McLuhan-esque media theory with techno, all in the style of a television news broadcast from hell. Their caustic and aggressive social commentary is a far cry from The Blue Man Group’s squeaky clean naiveté, but it’s hard not to watch footage of their live performances without seeing an ancestor of the Complex Rock Tour’s ironic infographics.
- Laurie Anderson’s Home of the Brave concert film (1986). All the ingredients are here, albeit in artier form: film, performance art, mime, masks, dance, etc.
- Peter Gabriel and Robert LePage’s Secret World Live and Growing Up Live tours were as much theater as rock concerts, utilizing simple yet hugely symbolic shapes and props: a tree, an egg, the moon, etc.
- Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense concert film (1983), for all the same reasons as Laurie Anderson and Peter Gabriel above.
- King Crimson. Some of the Blue Man music bears more than a passing resemblance to the polyrhythmic tuned percussion King Crimson employed in the early 1980s with tracks like “Waiting Man” and “Neil and Jack and Me.” Not only that, one of the members of the Blue Man band can be spotted played the Chapman Stick, popularized by Tony Levin.
- Rock Snobs might be surprised to hear traces of even more modern music in the Blue Man Group repertoire. I caught snippets of the instrumental so-called “post-rock” of UNKLE, Battles, and Explosions in the Sky.
- And finally, the one influence the Blue Men actually namecheck with a (brief) cover version in their show is Devo, but I don’t own any of their music! Maybe I should take this as a recommendation.
As humorous and toe-tapping as the Complex Rock show is, the Manhattan-based Blue Man Group end the proceedings with “Exhibit 13”, a haunting piece incorporating footage of actual World Trade Center debris that showered over Brooklyn only a few months prior. The piece is available online at Exhibit13.com