Artist: Blue Man Group - The Complex (HDCD)
Genre: In Yer Face Rock and Roll
Approx.cost: $ 14 USD
Reviewer: Scott Faller - TNT USA
Published: November, 2003
If you've surfed around our site long enough, no doubt you happened across my review of Blue Man Group "Audio". As many of you know, this is one kick ass CD. It is probably one of the most dynamic recordings that I own. It's so different from anything else many of us have heard that it left most all of us wondering how they were going to follow up this tremendous debut album. You know what I'm talking about. Some groups blow all their goods on the first release, leaving little for their follow up releases.
Well, here we have it, the second release from Blue Man Group called The Complex. This go around, the Blue Men have taken a slightly different approach to their unique brand of music. As bizarre as it sounds, the Blue Men (Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink) have added vocals to several tracks on their latest album. Those of you that know and love your Blue Man Group Audio CD are probably thinking, What.....vocals? I have to say, I was pretty much on the same page as you guys.
Now, I've had this CD for some time now. Lizabeth at Lava Records sent me the promo a while back (a long while actually, sorry Liz :-). I've listened to this CD a bunch of times and have never really been able to wrap my mind around it, until recently. I was really expecting a closer sound to the Audio release. Although you still have all of your favorite Blue Man signature sounds, there is a slightly different twist to this release with the introduction of vocals (amongst other things).
First, I guess you should know who the vocalists are. Don't worry, it's not the Blue Men, they don't speak (or sing). This fourteen track release (plus the obligatory hidden tack) has six special guests on it. The first track with vocals is called Sing Along with none other than Dave Matthews. It's a slightly slower track that has a very definite groove to it. Not to bad actually.
The next track spotlights Tracy Bonham singing Up On The Roof. Here we get much closer to the core sound of the Blue Men. This track is raw and aggressive. It's absolutely in your face and I love the hell out of it. It's everything you've come to love about Blue Man Group except with vocals.
I won't go through all of the vocal tracks but I will let you know that they are a definite departure from their previous form. This is something that the creators (apparently) have been wanting to do for a while. In some way, they've been wanting to fuse vocals with the raw energy of their sound. Generally, I think it works. For the casual music lover, they will probably prefer this sound to the Audio release. For those with more eclectic tastes, you may not care for it as much unless...............
Let me take you back to mid-October 2003. Blue Man Group came through St Louis for a second time this year. My wife and I missed the concert in mid summer. It was at an outdoor venue in the heat of a St Louis summer. I'm actually glad we missed this one. If I remember, it was about 90 degrees at show time with about 85% humidity.
Just miserable. That would have taken all of the enjoyment out of this event. Lucky us though, the Blue Men decided to stop in St Louis again but this time at the Fox Theatre. This Fox is a stately old theatre build back in the 1920's when the motto was "the more opulent, the better". The acoustics of the Fox are really good too.
I was lucky enough to get second row center seats on the first mezzanine. Even better yet, the person in front of me decided not to show up. My wife and I decided to invite some friends Brad and Joan to see the show. They are (were) Blue Man virgins and had no idea what to expect. I just told them that this would be an event like they have never experienced before. Little did I know what we were in for that evening.
See, I've been threatening to go to their show in Chicago at the Briar Street Theatre for a long time, a couple of years at least. I'm in Chicago a few times a year for my real job. Usually I'm beat after corporate meetings and just want to go back and veg out at the hotel, so I've never made it to their stage show yet. Well, all that changed last October.
We all managed to get to our seats and waited for the show to start. The warm up acts were Venus Hum, Esthero and Tracy Bonham, all of whom perform on The Complex as guest performers. Not bad, sound kinda sucked but they were using the house system that consists of an old Carver amp and some worn out EV monitors turned up way too loud (not really but it's probably not far off).
After the warm up acts finished up we were all treated to a pair of LED scrolling billboards to the left and right of the main stage. The Blue Men programmed these things with all kinds of silly crap that helped to get the audience primed for the main event. Great idea actually.
Then, the lights went down................next thing we know we are under this unbelievable, visceral assault to our senses. These guys didn't give any warning or warm us up at all. They dove straight at our throats and didn't us let up for the best part of 90 minutes.
The stage was filled to the brim with people, instruments and multilevel staging. There were no less than four percussionists, one drummer, two guitar players, a bass player, a keyboardist/DJ, the guest vocalists, and then front and center were three Blue Men. Everything and everybody was animated. The percussionists had their cymbals mounted at about two feet above their heads so it gave these wild arm movements when they hit them. On top of all that all of the platforms on the stage were lit up with multi-colored LED lighting, all programmed to work in unison as part of the visual show.
After the first song, Brad and Joanie looked at me and said (after they picked their jaws up), "Oh My God!!!!" I just said, "You haven't seen anything yet." After seeing the opening number, I knew we were in for the ride of our lives, and let me tell you, it was one HELL of a ride, a ride like none you've ever taken before.
The combination of sights and sounds of the Blue Man show sent me right over the edge into nipplitis erectus....seriously. For the next 75 minutes, my nipples were rock hard. I know that's the last detail you probably ever wanted to hear but that's just what happens when I'm overwhelmed by music. My nipples get hard (woo-hoo) and the top of my (bald) head beads up with sweat. Chills run up and down my spine. I run the entire emotional gamut.
The visual show created by these guys is almost indescribable. I really would try to describe it but there is no way I could ever do it justice. Lets just leave it at, this show is just as much candy for the eyes as it is the ears.
The sound. Let me put it to you this way, it was #*%&^#@ awesome. It was the cleanest sounding show I've been to. I spotted two flywired clusters of the new JBL VerTec VT 4889(?) monitors and the line array JBL VT 8441 subwoofers. All of these were being driven by a huge pile of Crown MA series amps.
We were sitting in fully cushioned seats (really thick ones) and I could feel my teeth chattering from the bass. And loud.....My God was it loud.....but, key point, it was clean. Big difference here. If you've been to a show that was loud and clipping, it's unbearable. We walked out of a Leon Russell concert recently that was just like that. The sound at the Blue Man concert was like most of us only dream our two channel rigs sounded like.
This show is an absolute assault on your senses. I guarantee you have never experienced anything like this before. I started thinking about some of the really great shows I've seen over the years. There is absolutely nothing that can compare, and I do mean nothing. Not Roger Waters The Wall tour, not Emerson Lake and Palmer with Keith and his spinning piano, not Todd Rundgren with his Utopia tour, not even the visuals of Circ de sole. Everything pales in comparison to this stage show.
Well, on the way out the show she actually stopped and bought a tee-shirt. Then, when we hit the curb out front of the Fox and met back up with Brad and Joan (remember them?), the first words out of my wife's mouth were "We have to drive to Chicago some weekend and take all of our kids, they have to see this." Coming from little miss apathy, I think that (alone) is one heck of a recommendation all by itself. I just replied, "Now you know why I play this so loud, don't you?".
So why do I bring the concert into a record review? Well, there are a few songs on The Complex that won't make any sense unless you see the show. After you have been experienced, they come clearly into focus.
No doubt you are wondering what the hell I'm talking about. Let me explain. Song numbers 2 (Time to Start), 5 (Your Attention) and 12 (What is Rock) have vocals blended in, that talk about "rock concert movements". As part of the stage show, when these songs are played, the Blue Men are supposed to be learning how to become Rock Stars. In turn the Blue Men begin making (or attempt to make) these moves like "the head bob", "the fist pump" and others. On the album it's pretty cheesy at best IF you haven't been experienced. After seeing the live show, it all makes sense now.
This is one of the main reasons I haven't written this review until now. I thought the whole "rock concert movements" thing was a little.....well..... weird, to put it mildly. I was going to pan the album pretty hard because of it. The vocals (granted) are different but there is more than enough of the original Blue Man DNA in this release to make it worthy of buying. Now after seeing the show, it has shed an entirely different light this album.
Ooops, I almost forgot to tell you about the sound. If you remember their first release, the sound was phenomenal. Earth shaking, speaker killing bass and huge musically dynamic swings were the motto of that release. That album is a true test of any system, bar none. Breathtaking dynamics, transients, decays, sub-sonic bass, that release had it all, plus it was an extremely clean mix. The Complex shares the same basic lineage. About the only thing that I didn't pick up on this release was stereo bass (sub-100 Hz). The complex is has a decent mix and soundstage. Though not quite on par (audibly) with their first release, it is still very good. I did notice that the recording was a bit "closed in" and not quite as open sounding as Audio was. Not bad by any stretch, just slightly more closed than Audio.
If you haven't seen these guys live, you have no idea what you are missing. If you can still get tickets, go and see The Complex Tour while they are still touring. If not, go and see their show at one of their regular venues. Trust me on this one, hop a flight to Chicago, New York, Boston, Las Vegas or even Berlin (in 2004) to see these guys. Then you can drop me a note thanking me and telling me how wonderful I am for turning you on to this experience (and it is an experience). While you are at it, tell me how wonderful a writer I am, bring me flowers like some Diva or some awesome stage performer. Better yet, throw money at me (just paper bills, coins hurt) or help send my kids through college because your spirit is so much more complete after seeing the Blue Men live that you can now say, you have seen and done everything.
On that note, I think I better get off the computer before my wife takes it away from me again.
© Copyright 2003 Scott Faller - www.tnt-audio.com