Review: ‘Citizens Band’

This seat-of-the-pants performance art ensemble is a little bit dada and a little bit rock 'n' roll -- a juxtaposition that makes for enough confounding moments to create a sense of synaptic whiplash.

This seat-of-the-pants performance art ensemble is a little bit dada and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll — a juxtaposition that makes for enough confounding moments to create a sense of synaptic whiplash. They pulled out all the stops at this freewheeling debut of their latest revue, “Masquerading in Paradise,” which nodded to music hall tradition, but offset that familiarity with an off-kilter sense of pacing and a decidedly post-millennial worldview.

Then again, the whole shebang could just be viewed through the prism of old-school variety show entertainment rather than an intellectual exercise — and it works just as well in that context. “Masquerading,” like the troupe’s previous efforts, weaves a wide variety of cover material and a smattering of original songs into an acerbic — and only occasionally didactic (as on Michael Cavadias’ reading of Phil Ochs’ “Draft Dodger Rag”) — tale of global warming and the evils of big oil.

Cut-and-dried moments were actually few and far between in the 90-minute perf, which unfolded in a setting that incorporated elements of Eden-like rusticity and Weimar-era decadence. That juxtaposition illuminated several of the well-chosen numbers, notably Noel Coward’s “Bad Times Are Just Around the Corner” (sung by Ian Buchanan and Ronin, whose earthy charisma was one of the evening’s biggest revelations) and David Bowie’s “John, I’m Only Dancing” (rendered torchily by Craig Wedren, formerly of art-rockers Shudder to Think).

Original pieces were seldom as melodically gripping, but most had at least a nugget or two of interest, particularly “Gasoline,” which radiated an elegant menace reminiscent of vintage Kurt Weill. Contrary to the mood of the company-sung “Chewing Up the Scenery,” most of the far-flung ensemble delivered clever perfs — like Rain Phoenix’s burning-ember “Fortune Teller” and Angela McCluskey’s bluer-than-blue “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today” — that leaned more towards insinuation than declamation.

And while the visuals were anything but subtle — the idyllically jazzy set pieces were further dizzied up by the work of aerialist Chelsea Bacon — that peripatetic nature actually offset the thoughtful material quite nicely. Vaudeville hasn’t looked this sharp in years.

Citizens Band

Highline Ballroom; 450 seats; $25

Production

Presented by Live Nation. Reviewed June 12, 2007.

Cast

Performers: Amy Miles, Angela McCluskey, Craig Wedren, Elizabeth Newtown, Ian Buchanan, Jed Parish, Jorjee Douglass, Karen Elson, Michael Cavadias, Rachelle Garniez, Rain Phoenix, Ronin, Sarah Sophie Flicker, Turner Cody. Orchestra: Adam Crystal, Duke Bojadziev, Jon Natchez, Jonathan Nosan, Kelly Pratt, Mark McAdam, Mathias Kunzli, Mike Jackson.
Aerialist: Chelsea Bacon.
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