Rich meets The Bobs! (videos included!)

Richard “Bob” Greene, Rich “Not Bob” Zwelling, Matthew “Bob” Stull,

Dan “Bob” Schumacher, and Amy “Bob” Engelhardt

Isn’t it nice when a cappella invovles good music and not a collegetown fad engaged in by members of frats and sororities, most of whom have no musical talent and think that adapting a Coldplay or Dave Matthews tune is the height of musical creativity?

On Friday, I got a rare treat when I saw The Bobs perform at the Metropolitan Room in Manhattan. Pictures here!

For those not familiar, The Bobs is an a cappella group that was founded in San Francisco a little over 25 years ago. Imagine the unabashed goofiness of Monty Python applied to the sounds of doo wop, barbershop, and jazz vocal quartets. Actually, their combination of consummate musicianship and irreverent humor likens them most to bands like They Might Be Giants and Moxy Früvous, the Canadian quartet that regretfully disbanded in 2002 and exhibits vocal stylings similar to The Bobs.

Interesting note: One of The Bobs’ CDs, Rhapsody in Bob — which by the way features an a cappella plus piano verison of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” — contains a cover of “Dinner Bell”, the They Might Be Giants tribute to Pavlov’s Dog.

The Bobs are perhaps most famous for covers of two late-60s rock hits: The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” and Cream’s “White Room”. But they also do tons of original material on such topics as synaesthesia, spontaneous combustion, a fifty-kilowatt tree, and a disco inferno. Some memorable titles include “Please Let Me Be Your Third World Country”, “Mr. Duality”, “Slow Down Krishna”, and one of the newer ones, “Get Your Monkey Off My Dog”.

Anyways, I first heard them when they did a few cuts for Milos Forman’s film Man on the Moon, which payed haphazard “homage” to comedian Andy Kaufman. I found one of those cuts, “Andy Always Dreamed of Wrestling”, to be a subtle blend of humor and genuine pathos. Since hearing that, I’ve grown to enjoy the group’s fun (and at times virtuosic) arrangements. I also love their use of elaborate and unconventional vocal stylings (music aficionados will notice that the aforementioned linked clip of “Helter Skelter” opens with a ninth chord and some overtone throat singing).

For this concert, I was unfortunately seated directly to the right of the stage, which isn’t the ideal place to be, either visually or acoustically. But that didn’t detract from the experience as much as I thought it would, because I was still able to see the group members interact. I love listening to their music, but their stage presence adds a wonderful dimension that can only be appreciated in live performance.

The Bobs are obviously well-rehearsed, but they also have an uncanny ability to improvise based on audience reaction. You can tell that they love being on stage — and that they love working with each other. More than anything, they have a good time. And they do so by giving the audience a good time. Much like in Eddie Izzard’s comedy, the audience is a major participant in the act.

Luckily, you don’t have to take my word for it. I managed to get a few videos. One is for a song called “Cowboy Lips”, which has lyrics like: “Jack Palance has got a sneer that’s collagen-free”.

The other is for one of their newer songs, “The Tight Pants Tango”. You know when your cell phone goes off in your pocket and you reach for it, but on that day, you conveniently wore your tightest-fitting denim? Yeah. The song’s narrator has as his ringtone Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit”, of all things, and the Bobs’ arrangement features a hilarious quotation of its leitmotif.

Listen to me — I’m using the word “leitmotif” in the context of an a cappella arrangement of an 80s synth-pop hit. Lordy Lordy Lordy.

I’ve included the videos here, but the sound isn’t very good, so if you want to know what’s being said, go directly to my postings here and here, where I’ve included lyrics.

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1 comment so far

  1. […] similar to The Bobs and Moxy Fruvous in their eccentric arrangements and their flippant […]


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