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He's just one guy -- but with his Magic Pipe he's That 1 Guy

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One-man bands — weathered ranks of street performers and multi-instrumentalists — are among the few whose hands, feet and mouths are capable of producing both harmony and rhythm.

Gritty, contagious musicians who settle just beyond the brink of insanity or brilliance. Musicians who would sell their very soul to come up with the perfect, one-man instrument.

Mike Silverman, better known as That 1 Guy, thinks he’s made that perfect instrument. With a shark-like grin, Amish hat and crazed gleam in his eye, he’s been captivating audiences since 1999 with the instrument he calls the Magic Pipe.

It’s a seven-foot-tall collection of swiveling pipes, foot pedals, metal gears, brass strings and electronic buttons. And when Silverman plays it, it looks like he’s playing a giant, futuristic vacuum hose.

“The goal was to be a one-man orchestra and make as much noise as possible,” Silverman says. “I knew I wanted to make a stringed instrument, so I walked up and down the hardware store looking for parts. When I discovered the pipes, they seemed to make the most sense.”

He’s a trained jazz musician but was growing tired of that scene when he began the laborious journey of inventing an instrument. Silverman says the instrument evolved from the way he played the percussive upright bass.

Silverman has a deep baritone voice, similar to the likes of Brad Roberts from the Crash Test Dummies. As a one-man band, he creates a bizarre, funk-laden Tom Waits-meets-dark, carnival music sound. Even lyrically, the music treads far beyond the beaten path — at times, it’s Dr. Seuss. A twisted nursery rhyme.

“On paper [my music] seems like such an oddity,” he says. “When you see it, it’s not that strange. It all comes together in a really organic way. The music itself is very rhythmic and layered. It’s hard to tell where the music is coming from because the sound is so dense with a lot of nice bass tones and melodic fragments.”

The current Magic Pipe has come a long way since its hardware-store beginnings. A machinist from the Phoenix Mars Lander project now builds the current model, based on the original design.

The big pipe on the instrument has low E strings; a smaller pipe has cello-like strings, and 13 trigger buttons plugged into a sampler play everything from trashcans to airplanes engines. Multiple kick pedals and a custom snare drum attached to the pipe give Silverman all the percussion he needs.

“It has a very ominous presence,” he says. “I’ve been told it looks like a giant metal harp without strings and a giant metal candy cane. It’s kind of like Tinkertoys, though — you can take it any direction you want because none of these components are meant to be doing what I’m doing with them.”

As if the Magic Pipe weren’t exhausting enough, Silverman has started incorporating the Magic Saw and magic tricks into his act.

“All this miraculous, bizarre stuff is kind of like what the instrument does,” he says. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’m just having so much more fun playing the Magic Pipe. It can do everything I want it to.”

That 1 Guy plays with Rubberdiculous and Odyssey at the Seaside (formerly the Blvd) on Sunday, May 9, at 7 pm. Tickets: $8. All-ages. Call 455-7826.

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