For the past 18 years, September means Fringe Festival. It is a 17-day extravaganza of performances, art, cabarets, happenings and very late nights. In the beginning, it was a lot less curated and you never knew what you were going to see. One year, my friends put on a show on four corners of Old City as couples arguing about being late. Folks walking by had no idea if it was a real argument and/if they should intervene. It is interesting to note that the only time a bystander intervened was when an interracial couple was arguing. For a couple of years, I would bartend at the late night cabaret and saw a ton of acts, some really good and, some, well, some were really good. I miss those old days when I could stay up all night and still got to work the next day and function. Sigh…Anyway, as the Fringe totally exploded it gets overwhelming to pick some things to see. To make sure I see at least one thing each year, I always make a point of seeing whatever Pig Iron Theater Company is doing.
Pig Iron is experimental and experiential theater, but approachable. I know this, because I get it. I am always excited to see what they will produce. So when I saw that Pig Iron was producing something in collaboration with Dr. Dog, I immediately bought tickets.
I had never seen Dr. Dog live, but knew about them, local guys done good, XPN favorites, etc. I was intrigued that this little band could come up with something that Pig Iron would want to be part of. I was a little surprised to observe that the crowd was more Dr. Dog and less Pig Iron, which to me was good and means Fringe is continually evolving and bringing younger folks in. The more I read ahead of time, the more confused I became and finally let it go and was ready to enjoy it. Here is the basic outline: for years, Dr. Dog has been receiving strange and psychedelic messages from a swamp dweller, Phrases. The idea is that Dr. Dog and scientists are going to do everything possible to make contact and figure this whole thing out. Seems pretty clear, right?
When we got to Union Transfer, I could not quite figure who was part of the show and who was not. Clearly the folks walking around looking like secret service were part of it, right? I don’t know; it could have been pre-pope preparation. The guy selling bootleg cassettes outside the theater beforehand was just a little kooky, right? Nope, part of it. I think. The guy yelling he wanted to have Scott’s (band member) baby? Still unclear. Here is what I do know. It was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
The band members were really good actors. Of course the Pig Iron folks were great, but it was also interesting seeing them somewhat take a back seat to the band. There was one song that was really trippy and the essence of the whole psychedelic vibe. I found myself slowly being enveloped in the music right along with them without realizing it. By the end of the song when the guitar player playing upside down on a member of Pig Iron’s back, it just made sense. I was sleepy right along with the cast and did not even know how it happened.
The whole thing was kind of dreamy like that and there is still some question if Dr. Dog sold their souls to get the “song of the century” or if the swamp creature was the devil and made it happen or was the boy band always in Dr. Dog’s destiny. See, lots of questions. That, my friend, is the fringe festival right there.
Dr. Dog then played a concert after the show, clearly two very different shows, but to not cause any sort of controversy, I will count this as one show. And I will definitely go to see Dr. Dog when they come back through town. I need to support artists like this who are so creative and not just your average “boy band.”
30 shows to go, 263 days left…