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Postmodern Blues 

by Ann M. Colford & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & lue Man Group is to arena rock shows as Jackson Pollock was to the art world -- it's all about the process. You'll find all the rock show accoutrements, like flashing lights, wailing guitars, pounding drums and overhead video screens, but the instruments at front and center are PVC pipes and foam-covered paddles. Three mute actor-percussionists, clad in black, with glossy bright blue earless heads, explore the stage, drumming and making oddball music on a Seussian assortment of found objects. He's a collective singular, the Blue Man -- three in one, a kind of monochromatic trinity.





"Early on, we realized there was something about the number three that was kind of magical," founder Chris Wink told the Los Angeles Times back in June. "It's the smallest unit of community. Three puts you where isolation and community meet, which is where we want to be."





With three Blue Men -- or the triple-bodied Blue Man, if you will -- somebody is always the outsider, it seems. It's the struggle between conformity and individuality, group identity facing down individual expression in the midst of a post-industrial world.





But that's a way-too-cerebral description of Blue Man Group. They are -- he is? -- a trio of self-aware Harpo Marxes, backed by Pink Floyd-esque harmonic layerings, trippy lighting effects and video projections. (The Pink Floyd resemblance isn't accidental; production and lighting designer Marc Brickman once worked for the Pink ones but has apparently shifted his color allegiances.) At their permanent theater locations (New York, Chicago, Boston, Las Vegas, Berlin, London, Amsterdam) there's a bit of Gallagher thrown into the mix, with splattering food, paint and toilet paper. That still happens at the tour venues, but on a somewhat smaller scale. (The most expensive seats for Tuesday's show at the Arena will get you in the splatter zone.)





The Blue Man likes to play with and pound on everything, but he especially likes tubes and pipes made of PVC. One of his favorite instruments is the tubulum, something like a xylophone as imagined by a stoned plumber. Because he likes to move around while playing, Blue Man now has a backpack tubulum, a cluster of curved PVC tubes that curl from his waist up over his shoulders to hang menacingly in front of his face. The effect makes it look like his black torso and bobbing blue head are resting in the open maw of some long-fanged monster.





Another favorite is the drumbone, so named because it has the properties of both a drum and a trombone. Two of the three characters assemble sections of PVC pipe while the third drums on the end of the pipe. By sliding lengths of pipe in and out, and otherwise rearranging the instrument mid-tune, Blue Man changes the pitch and tone -- while throwing in some comic choreography for good measure.





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he process of being Blue has taken the trio of bald ceruleans from busking on New York sidewalks in the late '80s to multiple permanent theater productions and touring companies. The founders -- Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton -- are now artist-CEOs, directing a growing enterprise of Blueness. They train others in the art of Blue, they continue to look for new instruments that combine sound and visual elements, and they guide the development of the Blue Man Group brand -- for instance, you can now buy toy versions of Blue Man Group instruments at "major retailers nationwide."





In the tour production coming to Spokane -- "How to be a Megastar 2.0" -- the Blue threesome follows an instruction manual for rock stardom, complete with covers of famous rock anthems and video instructions for audience participation. ("Rock Concert Movement No. 1: the basic head bob.") They poke fun at arena rock shows by creating a step-by-step guide to arena rock shows and then following it, thus creating a show out of creating a show.





You can talk about their influences, their witty and nearly wordless commentary on the isolation and depersonalization of life in the 21st century, their intellectual precedents -- but that's basically missing the point. Their shows are fun in that elemental, food-throwing, bang-on-stuff-with-sticks kind of way that most of us sadly abandoned at about age 9. The Blue Man views the objects of our world with the wonder of a child -- or alien -- and explores those objects through play.





So is Blue Man Group theater? A rock show? Is it performance art, whatever that means? The best answer is a bobbing head nod to all three. It's shrewd social commentary wrapped up in the visceral child-like delight that comes from whacking things and making noise. We should all have so much fun at our jobs.





Blue Man Group plays the Spokane Arena, 720 W. Mallon Ave., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $50-$85. Call 325-SEAT or visit ticketswest.com.





1987 & Friends Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton pursue creative alternatives to their day jobs and stumble upon the Blue Man.


1988 & A group of Blue Men holds a "Funeral for the '80s" in Central Park, laying to rest the notions of postmodernist art.


1991 & Blue Man moves indoors, as "Blue Man Group: Tubes" opens at New


York's Astor Place Theater.


1995 & After 1,285 shows in a row, Wink, Goldman and Stanton begin


training others to be Blue; a second production opens in Boston.


1997 & The Blue Man's production opens in Chicago.


2000 & "Blue Man Group: Live at Luxor" opens in Las Vegas and becomes


the flagship show in the BMG franchise. (The show moved to the


Venetian in October 2005.)


2002 & BMG performs in Moby's Area2 tour.


2003 & The first BMG national tour plays arenas across the country in


support of the group's audio CD, The Complex.


2004 & BMG opens in Berlin.


2005 & Theater-based productions open in Toronto and London.


2006 & The group's second arena tour, "How to be a Megastar 2.0" plays


dozens of cities in the fall; a new production opens in Amsterdam.


2007 & The Toronto production closes, but new theatrical shows are


planned at Universal Orlando in Florida and Oberhausen, Germany.


There are now 60-plus Blue Men performing all over the world.


-- ANN M. COLFORD

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