Pillbox

Blue men rock, they don’t conform

“Every morning I put it on. I walk outside and I am gone.”

That is the first line of “Persona,” a song by the Blue Man Group, though they are not the singers. The Blue Man Group features guest singers for their music; the men stick strictly to percussion and tomfoolery. This song, similar to many on The Blue Man Group’s CD The Complex, is about the mask you must wear at work or in the company of others. Conforming can destroy you, the CD — and the perfomance — says over and over.

The men aren’t just enigmas because they are blue. They are strange because their performances are part humor, part dance, part music, and part message. At the How To Be A Megastar Tour, the message stands out.

Last Saturday at Mellon Arena, the show opened with Tracy Bonham; she sings vocals on several of their songs. Her music and performance were low-energy in comparison to the Blue Man Group, so the fit was clumsy at best. Bonham’s first and last sets were the best, especially her last song, “Shine.” Her guitar work lent little to the performance — she has a band to back her up, so she may as well use it. As a violinist, she conjured much better results. After embarrassing herself with a boring cover of a miserable song, Beyoncé Knowles’s “Crazy in Love,” Bonham left the stage. She was, as could be expected, much more impressive when she worked with the Blue Man Group.

Immediately when they entered, the men showed themselves to be versatile on the stage as well as with percussion. Jumping, dancing, catching gumballs in their mouths — they were one with the rhythm. They never upstaged the music, but unfortunately they were sometimes upstaged by the video productions going on behind them. Two or three (depending on the song) large TVs dominated the set, showing music-video-like productions to accompany many of the songs. In a huge venue like Mellon Arena, the performers themselves, no matter how much their color makes them stick out, got lost in front of the screens. It would have been better to be a lot closer and to not have to rely on watching the screens to see the group’s facial expressions.

I’ve been a fan of the group since I popped The Complex into my computer a few years ago. When telling people I was a fan, I often got the response “Aren’t they, like, a performance art group?” I had never seen them live. Even having seen some video footage of them, I was still impressed by the pipes, wipes, and other odd instruments they used. They even had a grand piano set on its side with the innards exposed.

Since I’m familiar with all the Blue Man songs off The Complex, from which the Megastar Tour takes most of its act, I was more excited to see the Blue Men in action, and the fun stuff between sets. The videos add a lot more to the performance when used for humor. Throughout, the small clips included spoofs on Ron Popeil’s infomercials, with Popeil’s “brother” selling such things as a champagne funnel or a soundproof box for your overzealous guitarist. There was also a ridiculously funny piece where the rock star “Mono” told you about his latest charitable cause — finding new ways to use your “old, boxy television set.”

More humor would have been welcome. The group had great coordination with stunts such as catching small gumballs in their mouths, and everything worked towards a parody of the traditional rock concert. Even the gumball sequence takes place because the band is trying to create “unique souvenirs” to give to the audience. The more unique, the announcer said, the more you can charge for them. Yet since the caution against comformity is so dominant and often dark, the humor became almost too welcome. Laughing with the group became a relief that I wanted more and more.

I was half-disappointed by how closely the performance follows the CD, but the moments when the act was surprising took the show from good to great. At one point the Blue Men started doing “tribute covers,” and after a small bit of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” one of them put on a white veil. The more serious, full-length covers of Pink Floyd and The Who rocked, too. So what if you couldn’t hear Bonham on the violin during the solo in “Baba O’Riley”? It was worth it to see the beat being provided by two Blue Men playing on some sort of tube-and-.wire apparatus.

I’ll never stop loving the song “Persona” or the title track from the album. I still feel both tracks paint a picture without these zany men, but now that I’ve seen them I think I would have preferred less familiar music. Sure, the group can be heavy-handed in their message. They are different enough, perhaps even blue enough, though, to get away with it. They present a visual and aural feast.

Michelle Bova | Contributing Editor