- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

On stage, performance artists/musicians Blue Man Group let their tube-banging, paint-splashing antics do the talking. On the new album, “The Complex,” the group’s founders end the vocal silence by writing lyrics for guest artists such as Dave Matthews and Tracy Bonham. Layered with dense walls of tribal percussion and laced with enough neuroses to fill a Woody Allen film, the album conjures some bizarre ideas about the upcoming tour.

Will the show be set in an oversized psychiatrist’s office, with each member of the bald trio, slathered in glistening blue paint, taking turns as patient and analyst? Then, after resolving the issues that flow through the album — themes of isolation, insecurity and bitterness about an unsatisfying job — will they run to their invented instruments and lead the crowd in the head-bobbing, fist-pumping “rock concert movements” described on track two, “Time to Start”?

That’s what happens when one hears “The Complex” before seeing the nine-date spring tour, which begins Sunday at the Warner Theatre. A fans-only curiosity on its own, the disc seems designed as the perfect post-show souvenir, a tantalizing device for reliving the ambitious stage production designed by Marc Brickman. Blue Man Group creators Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink chose Mr. Brickman because of his 30 years of concert experience, most notably the extravagant Pink Floyd tours.

“It’s been a while since music fans have been given an album that was linked to a visceral, over-the-top rock concert event, on par with that of Pink Floyd,” said Mr. Goldman in a release issued by the group’s music label, Blue Man Records. “It may sound presumptuous, but our approach has always been to aim high, so this is the level we are shooting for.”

Presumptuous? Yes. But as Blue Man Group has ballooned from three pioneers to a 500-person multimedia company, its founders have discovered a way to reach their goals.

The VIP Club programs a hip-hop dream weekend to celebrate the one-year anniversary of its Friday, Saturday and Sunday night events. Doug E. Fresh, the original “human beat box” and self-proclaimed “world’s greatest entertainer,” arrives tomorrow to start the festivities with an old-school flair. The next evening, Busta Rhymes tears through a set of party-starting anthems.

The weekend concludes with the only D.C. stop for the Def Jam Vendetta tour, named for a video game released in April. In a slick marketing gambit, Def Jam Recordings teamed with software company Electronic Arts to drop its biggest stars, including DMX, Method Man and Redman, into a gritty, virtual battle environment made popular by the film “Fight Club.” The game pounds like an elbow smash to the skull — and that’s a good thing.

The bone-smashing makes way for the music on Sunday at the club, located at 932 F St. NW. But the evening still presents a challenge for Keith Murray, Capone-n-N.O.R.E., Joe Budden and Caddillac Tah. They’ll be squaring off against one another with mikes, lyrics and stage moves for musical supremacy, and also fighting to surpass the expectations set by the game’s rambunctious attitude.

Ian McCulloch’s timing is impeccable. The former Echo & The Bunnymen lead singer releases a new record and embarks on a U.S. tour in the midst of a resurgence of interest in early ‘80s alternative bands. He visits the 9:30 Club Monday.

With “Slideling,” Mr. McCulloch positions himself to gain from the vast attention paid to a new wave of young bands who reverently emulate the aching pop triumphs of Echo & The Bunnymen, the Smiths and other favorites from the United Kingdom. His band’s stature also receives a boost from its prominent placement on the soundtrack of “Donnie Darko,” an unnerving cult film set in the Reagan era.

“Slideling,” Mr. McCulloch’s third solo record, begins with an ebullient, irony-free paean to love’s ability to captivate the soul. As the chorus to “Love In Veins” reaches its soaring chorus, it’s obvious that Mr. McCulloch won’t pander or follow an old formula. He’s fully comfortable sharing his ideas about love, mostly positive (“Arthur”), sometimes fractious (“Seasons”). “Playgrounds and City Parks” presents a melancholy reflection of Mr. McCulloch’s childhood.

He’s the same confident vocalist, infusing a sense of cool into each line by massaging the rough edges off the consonants and pulling out the vowels like taffy. Even though he’s working without guitarist Will Sergeant, the sunshine-piercing-through-gray-clouds shadings familiar to Echo & The Bunnymen fans color many of the tracks.

Three lines from “Kansas” succinctly summarize Mr. McCulloch’s assuredness: “I’m growing up,” he sings, “Growing into me/Knowing now where I’m coming from.”


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