Friday, April 30, 2010

Humanoid Boogie

It was telling that the ads for Neil Innes' appearance at Cobb's Comedy Club didn't mention the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band at all, instead reading "Neil Innes (Monty Python, The Rutles)". In fact, the marquee itself billed him as "Neil Innes from Monty Python & The Holy Grail". In commercial terms, it makes sense of course, and one hopes that this strategy served to turn some less-informed Python fans on to the Bonzos. The people around us, though, needed no such introduction, cheering with recognition not only for the Bonzo numbers, but even for "How Sweet To Be An Idiot", the sentimentally histrionic (imagine John Cale with a duck on his head) title song of Innes' first solo album. This was a small but hardcore crowd of Innes fans who knew exactly who they were in the presence of. The warm reception must have been gratifying to Neil, who tantalized us with great stories of the early days of his one of a kind berserk psychedelic Dada trad-jazz combo.

Which is not to say that Neil Innes is resting on his laurels. Switching between various guitars, ukulele and keyboard (the last of which he could have spent more time on---I would've been happy to hear him play piano all night), he brought forth a wealth of good new material, some of which was downright stunning. One in particular, "One Of Those People", is definitely going to be added to Ear Candle Radio as soon as we get a hold of it; it really struck a chord with me. Unfortunately, Neil was all out of merch, having sold the lot at previous dates on this tour. But his newest, Innes' Own World: Best Bits, includes the aforementioned "One Of Those People", as well as "Imitation Song", the poignant Rutles swansong whose video we posted previously, and the rousing nose-thumbing anthem, "Ego Warriors". We're seeking it out at this very moment.

I remember Innes' post-Bonzos, pre-Rutles solo output from the 70s as being rather uneven as he made great efforts to prove himself as a More Serious Songwriter, but it's good to see he has found his own voice as a solo artist in the ensuing decades. The new material hits the perfect balance and showcases his matured talent for witty buffoonery that can touch on a serious point amid the silliness if he chooses to. At times, he was like a less misanthropic Stephin Merritt, with an encyclopedia of genres at his fingertips.

Still, a comedy club was the right place for this multi-faceted artist, and Innes delivered the laughs. The most hilarious moment for me was probably the ridiculously spot-on Elton John parody. In what could have been mistaken for an outtake from Madman Across The Water, he captured both Bernie Taupin's pseudo-profound word salad lyrics and Elton John's weird vocal tics and florid piano, resulting in something irresistible to both fans and non-fans. ("GodFREY DAAAANiels, he ain't done nothing wrong/Let him go back to Ohio or wherever he belong") The sweetest moment was either "Imitation Song", the Rutles' "Cheese And Onions", or possibly the faux-French ballad of mundane-yet-deepening love purred through a fake mustache. The most fun aspect of the evening was what he called "band shouts", aka audeince-participation singalongs. The show was a delight, and more than lived up to the Bonzos' legacy.

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