Tuesday, May 03, 2005

I probably would have left out some juicy details had I written about Saturday night's Dr. Demento program on Sunday, but now that a few days have past, I'm sure I'll be even more vague. But I hope I can at least capture the tone of the evening, and a few of the highlights.

After a long wait for dinner, and some compulsive gambling afterwards, I arrived at the California Center for the Arts right at 8:00. I made a mad dash from the parking lot, up the stairs, and took my seat, sweaty and out of breath, just as the lights dimmed. The show opened with a short montage of clips, starting with a clip from Bobby's World and concluding with a great clip of "Weird Al" Yankovich, showing his gratitute for making his career skyrocket, by giving Dr. Demento a piggy-back ride. The audio wasn't very good for these clips, a warning of what was to come. Dr. Demento took to the stage to riotous applause. The format of the evening, it soon became clear, was about what I expected; Dr. Demento would talk a bit, give some backround on the songs and acts he would present, and then play some songs, some with video clips, some without. The first song was Yankovich's "Dare to Be Stupid." I hadn't seen the video in some time, but unfortunately the sound was horrible. A technician took the stage, and by the end it sounded pretty good, but sound problems would plague the entire first act. The pure audio clips were fine, but apparently the DVD player wasn't hooked up quite right, and feedback and static really marred that aspect of the performance.

But it was still enjoyable, even the marred first half. Along with Yankovich, Dr. Demento peppered the first half with clips by Tom Lehrer, Frank Zappa, and more old favorites, as well as a montage of songs popular in the past year on the Dr. Demento Show (which the good doctor acknowledged most of us would be unfamilar with, as the show is not carried by any San Diego station, thanks to the good people at Clear Channel--whose mention warrented a spirited razz from the crowd). I can't remember what video clip preceded intermission ("Fish Heads," perhaps, or was it "Jurassic Park"), but the sound for the last clip was almost unbearable. Fortunately, after Dr. Demento was drug off-stage to the accompaniment of "There's Coming to Take Me Away," the tech people pretty much took care of the problem during intermission.

The second half of the show was more enjoyable, both because of the sound quality and the quality of the material. He played some vintage recordings of early comedy albums, going back as far as 1910. A Spike Jones clip was a highlight of the evening, featuring Billy Barty as Liberace (and he really looked the part!). He performed a group of songs with a San Diego connection (though this might have been in the first half, I don't really remember), including Country Dick Montana's classic "Lakeside Trailer Park" (Dr. Demento introduced this as a solo work of his, though it seems to have appeared on a Beat Farmers album). And a segment of songs that can't be played on the radio gave the libertarian doctor a chance to mock the FCC, playing Monty Python's "Sit on my Face," and "Penis Envy," featuring the lines, "If I had a penis/I'd still be a girl/but I'd make much more money/and conqueor the world" (both tunes have resulted in substantial fines when played on the radio, though of course neither sit, face, nor penis are in fact dirty words).

There are songs I'm forgetting, that I enjoyed (a recent clip of Boris Pickett performing "The Monster Mash" just sprung to mind, as did the very short film "Bambi Meets Godzilla"). Dr. Demento was dropped from 91X a long time ago, and even when it did air in San Diego--confession time--I only listened to "The Dr. Demento Show" sporatically. So for me, a casual fan, this was a great mix. I heard the classics I expected to hear, and a good number of songs new to me. The show concluded with a performance by the good doctor himself, his only (that I know of) hit, a cover of Benny Bell's suggestive chart-topper, "Shaving Cream." I had been forewarned that he adds new, topical verses to the song in performances, and this time was no exception. As I can't remember the exact wording, I won't attempt to share any bowlderized versions here. But he sang a verse about the lovely sewage off our coast, a rather awkward verse about Governor Schwarzenegger, and a funny verse about our soon-to-be-ex mayor, who was striken by the California sun, apparently, and fell face first in the sh....aving cream. That went over well with the crowd, as did the whole evening. Well, at least portions of the crowd. It was an odd mix; there was a younger crowd, not many kids, but college students and a fair number of high schoolers, it seemed. But there were also a lot of seniors. It reminded me of many of the Randy Newman concerts I've attended, where most of the people seem to be there because they attend every concert, not out of a fondness for the music. There were older couples on either side of me, and neither returned from intermission (to be fair, I think one was more turned off by the sound quality, and seemed to enjoy the songs). Which helped out with the leg room situation for me.

Dr. Demenot signed autographs after the show. I decided I would buy his greatest hits CD and have him sign it, but apparently they sold out of CDs at intermission. So I didn't get a chance to meet him personally and name-drop an aquaintance of mine who is a friend of his. But no worries. I had a really good time, and having gotten the ticket on sale, it was a real bargain. I wasn't sure what a live Dr. Demento performance would entail, but I wasn't disappointed. The show served up some numbers I've always loved, a lot I've never heard before, rarities from artists I've long admired, and some things, well, a bit demented (a farting contest from, I believe, the 1940s was quite amusing). If Dr. Demento is ever live in your neck of the woods, check out the show. Until he comes my way again, I'll be downloading some classic Dr. Demento shows and joining his fan club.

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