Dave "Doogie" Brooks, Dave Lohr, Scott Richards, Rob Savage, and I sat in the last row of seats ringing the round stage at the Celebrity Theater in Anaheim, California. We looked down at a bunch of lonely monitor cases sitting forlornly on the stage.
After several minutes of silence, Scott looked around and asked, "Shouldn't we be, like...doing something?"
Doogie clicked his heels together 3 times; "There's no place like home..."
This was a terrible way to end this tour. The show was a shadow of its real self, a vague echo of the original composition. Nothing was right for anybody.
The band had a surreal monitor situation to deal with. They were jammed into an orchestra pit next to the stage. It is almost six feet deep, which meant that they, effectively, couldn't see out of it. It is only about 7 feet wide however, and this causes serious difficulties. There are 7 players in this band. Derek Organ plays drums, and his kit takes a 6'x 8' footprint. James "Timbale" Cronwell plays percussion, normally across stage from Derek. Tonight the two were right next to each other, and they occupied more than half of the available space in the pit. Three keyboard rigs (Roman Johnson, Kenneth Crouch, and Myron McKinley), bass (Seikou Bunch), and guitar (Tommy Organ) round out the ensemble...and filled in the spaces. These people had just enough space to stand in: no more. Tommy's guitar rig, four 12 inch speakers in a single cabinet, was placed at head level to his left, no more than 20 inches from his ear. Arrayed around the curve of the stage and facing the players were their monitors. The wedge shaped cabinets, which normally lay on the floor in front of each player, stood on end in front of them at face level. They could not see Scott, who was 150 feet away from them. He could not see them. As we surveyed this unique solution to the monitor challenge, Popcorn shrugged, "It was either this, or they simply guess at what they sounded like."
Scott came to me this afternoon and said, "Hey, I've got an item for your journal, but you have to come see it...it's a sight gag..." He showed me his monitor closet. He built it himself. It was made of stacks of amp racks and processing racks towering eight feet tall around his desk. He had about a single square yard to stand in. Dave Lohr was his next door neighbor. Although he had a bigger lot, he had to deal with the same skyscrapers of gear. Both have taken on the same sort of nervous giggle, between high speed performance flashes. They dealt with an audio tape truck present for the purpose of recording En Vogue and Arrested Development live this evening. Dave described the hoops which the mix signal had to jump through on its way to the truck, with a Mad Magazine sort of expression on his face. He and Doogie shared a glance which said that the silliness of it was an inside experience: almost impossible to impart to someone who wasn't there.
Rob sort of flapped about like a dog without a home; we had no dimmers in the room and, thus, no beach. He did take responsibility for setting the strobe light on the stage and seeing to the cue. Beyond that, he napped and waited for action all day.
As near as I could tell, Bernie had almost nothing to do with the show today: there was nothing to rig, and no set to build. He may have played with some of his drapes or something... At one point I saw him in the building, but I was moving too fast to take note.
Only God knows what Popcorn, K.C. and Fred had to deal with in the band pit. I know that they had a silly logistical situation to deal with. Evidently, there were some serious technical difficulties with, among other things, loose voltage arcing around some the hardware in the pit. I can't imagine what it must have been like to work down there. The cabling present in that sort of environment is very delicate and very important. Complexity does nothing to ease the situation; the communications radios made for very interesting listening in the last moments before house lights for the first show. I don't know what bug they were tracking, or where. However, it's probably not very far out of touch with reality to imagine them crawling around the floor of that digital jungle on their hands and knees.
When house lights went down on the first of two shows for the evening, I was barely up for it. My I-Beams didn't have the same sort of polish in their looks as they did at our last round stage (Cleveland). This is mostly due to the hang, which was impossible to arrange symmetrically. In addition, I only had 90 minutes in which to program the show. In Cleveland, I had 5 hours.
Without the set, much of the look of the I-Beams floated abstractly through thin air. We painted pools on the deck, but the angles were all wrong for any sort or graphic presentation, which is what these instruments do best.
The colors of the house rig were all wrong. Finally, Duck didn't have the wide palette of hues which his color changers afford him. The I-Beam colors, which were programmed a million miles ago, jangled against unfamiliar and unsympathetic shades, coming from alien angles.
Every once in a while, as we ran through it, something familiar would flash to the knowledgable eye. The yellow I-Beam chase through the house during "Hold On" was recognizable to anyone who has seen the show...but it was distorted into what Popcorn called "the Bermuda Triangle Gig".
There was one thing which didn't change tonight though: I still got goose bumps when the Divas smoothed through the lush a capella harmonies of the old Beatles tune, "Yesterday". I can't believe that they were able to hear themselves as they usually do (did). In any case, they still delivered all the power that their four voices are capable of.
Terry Ellis, Maxine Jones, Cindy Herron, and Dawn Robinson each individually and all together carried the show almost exclusively on their own merits. This is not to say that they didn't do so on nights when we were able to present the entire production design to the ticket buying public. Tonight, however, they knew how to settle into their production and use it to compliment what there can be no doubt of: their actual talent. This was not Milli Vanilli, or even Paula Abdul: these women sang their parts the old fashioned way. They listened to each other and wove their harmonies into rich R&B and soul tapestries that rocked (Maxine during "Turn It Loose"; Dawn on "Respect"), or wailed (Terry: "Don't Go", or Cindy doing "Hold On").
Tonight, it was just them and the audience, which was very close-up. That round stage puts a performer out in the wind; there is no place to hide if your note falls flat because you can't hear yourself properly. A round stage is a very intimate sort of thing, which is its charm. However, it is not for the faint of heart.
The Divas brought the place down, twice.
It was in the second show, during band introductions, that Maxine invited the entire support staff, including Arrested Development and crew, onstage. She held everything up and insisted to the crowd that we all join her. It took several minutes for all of the denizens of supportdom to make their way down the aisles of the theater. When they got there, they spent their time wandering around, hugging and high-fiving each other. Maxine told everyone how wonderful we'd been. We told each other the same things, face to face under the lights, in front of everybody. It was really sweet of her to do this, and it was an opportunity not to be missed: a tour never ends cleanly. It always grinds to a slow halt.
Good-byes are often offered and accepted many times over the course of the final evening. As travel plans take their own individual courses, one never knows when a mate is out the door with everything he has...not to be seen again for months or years. If you have something to say to a member of the entourage, you say it now because those final moments have a way of getting away from you in the banal turn of a corner, or the chance sharing of a cab. Paths part instantly at the end of a tour. However, they don't have to be final partings...
David Lombard is the Divas' manager, and wonderfully relaxed and conservative in his manner. He has been out here through the whole tour, and seen it all with us...the rape of Constitution Hall and the largeness of the Summit. He took the time to come find me on the stage, this evening, as we were striking Intellabeams from the overhead grid.
His invitation for me to join the Divas for a short engagement in London, England, was very personal and warm. He looked me in the eye as do people who know what each others' eyes have seen. He complimented my work lavishly, and I know that he has watched me over the eight weeks since we first met in rehearsal.
I had to confide to him that, when this project first began to develop in the Roth offices, I had no idea what or who the Funky Divas were. I had never heard a single note of their music.
He laughed, "Okay...Do you know now?"
"Sure do...I have been to class. I'll go home and buy the records."
I meant it. I will also join the Divas, and my brothers and sisters of the road, in London. I've grown quite fond of them all over the course of eight weeks together.
At the moment, though...
I can't wait to step off Delta flight #1420 in Atlanta tommorow. I've had enough fun for eight weeks.
October 18, 1992
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