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[whitespace] Nothing to Sphere But Sphere Itself

The sideshow was the show at Estradasphere's latest extravaganza

By David Espinoza

WHOLESOME, FEEL-GOOD POP MUSIC probably never saw it coming: five musicians out of Santa Cruz who dress, dance and sing like the Backstreet Boys, only their band is a front for something much larger and much more ingenious. I'm referring to Estradasphere's opening medley last Thursday night at Palookaville, during which they did a very good impression of every Hollywood-produced bubble-gum band, complete with synchronized dancing and flash photography-friendly poses. But in place of the usual empty-headed lyrics, we got Tim Smolens asking in a sugary voice, "Am I original?" while gyrating like a prima donna. It's a shame Britney Spears wasn't there to see it.

If we've learned anything about Estradasphere and its behemoth circus show, it's to expect the unexpected. That being said, the scene Thursday wasn't so much a concert as it was a festival that blurred the line between audience and performers. Even before the musicians stormed the stage, out on the floor accordionists and fiddlers wandered about, as well as audience members dressed up in insect costumes, hats and green wigs. The mainstage itself was done up in fluorescent paint, colorful lights, screen and giant wooden octopus tentacles--just to name a few amenities. But the mainstage couldn't hold the entire cast, goodness no, and there was a smaller second stage off to the right, foreshadowing the spectacle to come.

By the time Estradasphere found its way to the stage, it seemed as if anything could and would happen. The first few songs were accompanied by balloonist David Poznanter, who sculpted massive Dr. Seuss-like hats for the band members to wear, before throwing an arm full of balloons into the crowd. Poznanter then took a volunteer and proceeded to make a full balloon body suit, a project that kept him occupied for a good portion of the night. This was only one of a tidal wave of circus acts that claimed a good portion of the audience's attention throughout the night.

Guitarist Jason Schimmel once observed that for all the time Estradasphere puts into making highly complex compositions, it usually is upstaged by the circus--and he's absolutely right. The five musicians play some of the most nimble and extraordinary music on this planet, but the audience's eyes are often transfixed on the stilt walkers, the sword-wielding Satanist, the three lovely fire dancers. It's not that the music is secondary, it's just that the freak circus is anything but a sideshow.

Of course, the band is certainly capable of holding its own. During the second act Whooley sang a death-metal version of Ricky Martin's "Living la Vida Loca" while head death-metal cheerleader Atrocity (a.k.a. Naiya Cominos) tore off his shirt as he thrashed his hair about. Another blaze of glory came when Schimmel hopped onto MC Bob Hathaway's shoulders (after two death-metal cheerleaders stripped off his tux) and waded into the audience--all the while shredding out maximum-volume guitar riffage. Oh yeah, and the New Age healing, during which the band and audience sat down and "ommed," was pretty neat too.

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From the March 15-22, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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