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The City Never Sleeps

When The Second City came to the Rio last Friday courtesy of UCSC Arts & Lectures, they were billing their tour as a "best-of" kind of thing. Considering that this Chicago troupe has produced comedians like John Belushi, Gilda Radner, John Candy and, as one Second City player put it, "many people who are still living" like Bill Murray, Mike Myers and Andy Dick, you gotta think that their best is pretty amazing. But then you remember that alongside every budding star throughout the years, there had to be legions of Second City folk who were, well, second rate. And I don't want to be mean or anything, but it didn't seem hard to tell which was which at the late show Friday night. There were a couple of guys who really stood out--every time they were onstage, they had the audience in the palm of their hand. But there were a couple of weak links too, and nowhere did it show more than in the improv bits.

Now, if your only experience with improv comes from TV's Whose Line Is It Anyway?, you've got a distorted view of how the whole thing works. I've seen a taping of that show, and I can tell you the appearance that every skit and song comes off great is simply an editing trick. In truth, there are a lot of false starts and screwed-up sketches that are simply left on the cutting-room floor, and the producers film for hours at a time to make sure they'll have enough top-notch stuff. On stage, though, there's no such luxury, and there were a couple of painfully awkward moments when one of the Second City crew didn't have the chops to keep up. It gave the proceedings an eerily amateurish feel you wouldn't expect from such a renowned group.

There were, though, a lot of laughs. The quick "blackout" sketches they opened with and occasionally came back to were hit-and-miss--I've never found that format to have much of a payoff; it reminds me of subpar variety show filler. But when they started to get into some longer sketches, they were hot. It was the kind of clever sketch writing that hooked you in by promising a series of twists--what costume would each unsuspecting party guest have to improvise out of a totally normal outfit, which video-night chatterbox would ruin the Lord of the Rings screening next, etc.--and then delivering. And the musical improv sketch at the end, now that was a beautiful thing.

Steve Palopoli

White Album on the Rebound

Having fully recovered from the flu that ravaged three of its members over the holidays, The White Album Ensemble pulled off yet another successful show in January. They could have taken the profits and run off to a well-deserved vacation in Tahiti, but just last Friday, the Ensemble presented a check for $2,000 to the Soquel High School Jazz Band to help them out with some snazzy new instruments.

"I don't know if we'll be able to blow up a big check," quips Dale Ockerman of the Ensemble--"too much money at Kinko's."

Already the Ensemble is back in rehearsals, this time around reviving The Beatles' Rubber Soul and Revolver albums. Why these two?

"We started out trying Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour, but there's so much massive orchestration, it'd take a year to get that together," says Ockerman.

While these two next albums they're doing are certainly not as complex as The White Album, Ockerman believes they also played a unique role in the evolution of popular music, representing a transition from the Beatles as four-piece rock band to the Beatles as avant-garde art rockers.

"Right around '66," says Ockerman, "The Beatles quit touring and were starting to get into the studio, adding more keyboards, more sitar. Rubber Soul was like the creation of world beat almost, so we thought that would be a good one."

The Ensemble expects to have the show ready by mid-May, complete with new choreography, dance and video, and even another player, Anup Battel, on sitar.

"It's soundin' good, man," says Ockerman. "Now that we got our stride, the vocals really sound amazing; so much like the Beatles."


Automatic Animal and The Fire Sermon perform at the Mediterranean on Feb. 28. Fruit performs at Henfling's on March 3. Tea Leaf Green and Solcircle perform at the Catalyst on March 3.

Mike Connor

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From the February 25-March 3, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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