A Rockin' Concept: Blue Man Group @ US Airways Center on Sunday, January 13

By Niki D’Andrea Photos by Luke Holwerda

Better than: Being too cool to dance.

The Blue Man Group’s “How to Be a Megastar Tour 2.1” is like a mini pop-psychology lesson, embedded within an interactive, multi-media extravaganza. The premise behind the performance: a fledgling band of Blue Men order an instructional videotape titled The Rock Concert Instruction Manual that tells them how to be rock stars and give audiences a stellar concert experience.

Satire saturates the show, and that’s part of the point. Segments from the fictional video dole out advice on the rock formula throughout the performance. Wear makeup to look more edgy and glamorous. Ask your audience the right questions to elicit enthusiastic responses (“Are you ready to rock?” and “How’s everybody doing tonight?” work better than “Do you think the decline of the dollar on Dow-Jones is indicative of an impending recession?”). And when you make it big, pay tribute to the stars who came before you so you don’t come off like the egotistical ass you’ve really become.

Blue Man Group grooves on some movable pipes. Watch Luke Holwerda's slideshow.

The Rock Concert Instructional Manual includes how to perform several “Rock Concert Movements,” like #15 (“Bringing a Guest Vocalist Onstage”), #27 (“Saying Hello to the People in the Cheap Seats”), and #78 (“The Fake Ending”). But the psychology lesson bit comes in the form of audience participation. Most of the Movements require mass participation for full effect, like “The Basic Head Bob” (Movement #1), “The One-Armed Fist Pump” (#2), and “The Two Arm Upward Thrust with Yell” (#6). These are things people do at rock concerts anyway; they are the traditions that create chemistry between performer and audience. Details might change (we now see a sea of waving cell phone LCD screens instead of thousands of flames from lighters), but the audience’s desire to be seen and heard, to be a part of the show, is ever-present. It’s natural to rock out at a live concert, but rarely do people do it with the presence of mind that their rocking out is an integral part of the performance. In “How to Be a Megastar Tour 2.1,” it’s obvious: if the audience doesn’t play along, the show -- for all its bells, whistles, upside-down pianos, and confetti bombs -- loses it soul.

The Blue Men watch an infomercial for The Rock Concert Instructional Manual.

Musically, Blue Man Group provided a live soundscape with broad strokes. There were three drum sets, a bassist, a guitarist, a keyboardist/vocalist, the three Blue Men, and guest vocalist Tracy Bonham, and their combined talents made for a sonic stew that included folk, pop rock, hard rock, experimental, and classic rock covers (Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days” and The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly,” which served as the encore after the “Fake Ending.”) The backing band was phenomenal, but it’s Blue Man Group’s knack for creating percussive sounds with offbeat or altered instruments that’s truly fascinating to hear. From the beginning of the show, where the three musicians drummed on big, hollow plastic pipes and moved them around to alter pitch, to the end of the show, where they set a piano on its side and struck the strings with a giant mallet, Blue Man Group proves that innovation can jive with composition and even fit into a concept tour.

Visually, “How to Be a Megastar Tour 2.1” is almost like a psyschedelic kaleidoscope at times, with performers wearing flashing neon outfits against a backdrop of projection screens that, at any given time, show everything from animated videos to Day-Glow swirls that spin into funky flower forms or explode into colorful splatters. And of course, The Rock Concert Instructional Manual vignettes drive the whole show.

By the end of the show, a few audience members had been brought onstage (that’s Rock Concert Movement #28), and one walked away with a paint-splattered tee shirt -- a result of one Blue Man throwing paint balls across the stage and into the mouth of another Blue Man, who then spit the paint all over the shirt. Another Blue Man regurgitated some marshmallow-looking thing onto the baseball cap of another audience member. Very rock ‘n’ roll, even if it’s not quite biting the head off a bat.

Blue Man Group practices Rock Concert Movement #6, "The Two Arm Upward Thrust with Yell.”

Personal Bias: I think The Rock Concert Instructional Manual may be the greatest music manifesto that never existed.

Random Detail: “Rock Concert Movement #237: Taking the Audience on a Jungian Journey into the Collective Unconscious by Using the Shadow as a Metaphor for the Private Self that Gets Repressed by the Modern Persona, and Also by Using an Underground Setting and Labyrinth Office Design to Represent Both the Depths of the Psyche and the Dungeon-like Isolation of our Increasingly Mechanistic Society that Prevents People from Finding Satisfying Work or Meaningful Connections with Others.”

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea