By Ian S. Port
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Last week, Petrol drummer Carter (no last name, just like Cher) played his final gig with the band before leaving town. Rather than a solemn occasion, however, the Pound-SF show was a jolly send-off. Carter, it seems, is moving to Las Vegas to take a position as timekeeper for the Blue Man Group.
"I read an ad in the SF Weekly [for desired musicians] and said, "What the heck?'" Carter says via phone from his San Francisco home. "I didn't even know what to expect. I didn't know anything about the show."
For many locals the Blue Man Group begins and ends with those annoying Intel Pentium processor commercials, where three skullcapped, greasepainted guys run around with their PVC tubes hanging out. The ads make little to no sense unless you're aware that the blue-hued boys are part of a performance troupe that formed in New York City in the late '80s. Over the past eight years, BMG's off-Broadway show has taken off -- to the point where it now sells out gigs in Boston, New York, Chicago, and Las Vegas, simultaneously. The group has appeared on The Tonight Show 10 times, Live With Regis six times, and CNN's World Beat twice; at this year's Grammy Awards the cobalt brothers performed with Moby and Jill Scott. BMG's debut album, Audio, just hit No. 175 on the Billboard 200 chart of top-selling albums -- 72 weeks after its initial release. (To listen to the rather humorous, self-deprecating radio ads for the record go to www.blueman.com.)
What's all the fuss about? Time magazine called the Blue Man Group "the closest thing to avant-garde theater ever to make it in Vegas," although the competition probably isn't that fierce. None other than Dustin Hoffman said the performance was like "an acid trip in first grade." (Frankly, I'm shocked Hoffman knows what taking acid is like -- never mind in grade school.) Borrowing bits of Japanese koto drumming, abstract expressionism, Pink Floyd-ian space rock, and the deadpan comedy of Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers, the group creates performance art that isn't afraid to get messy and stupid. Stomachs explode from eating Twinkies, tubes of paint splash abstract art, and musicians beat on homemade 6-foot drums, all under a vast light show. It's Stomp for the Star Wars generation -- not exactly the kind of work you'd expect an aspiring rock 'n' roller to go for.
But you'd be surprised how many local musicians auditioned. Like Primus' drummer, Tim "Herb" Alexander. "He was out there during my last audition," Carter says. "He got [the job] too."
Just how many drummers does the Blue Man Group need? Carter says there are between 12 and 15 in the Vegas crew, only four of whom are onstage at a time. But there are 14 performances per week, and the staff rotates in and out. "What I'm most excited about is being on the same stage as the drummer for [heavy metal band] Slaughter," Carter enthuses. "I used to play with their old tape when I was learning drums in junior high."
The strangest part of the job is the anonymity. "I get to disguise myself in neon bodysuits and masks," Carter says. "It's different in that you go and perform and then you leave, and no one knows you were up there."
It appears the group has a special way of indoctrinating its staff. "They pay me in bottled blue water and blue bread," he says with a chuckle. "Apparently they have extra vitamins in there so you have everything you need to live off of."
Meanwhile, Carter's old bandmates in Petrol are finding it hard to replace him. "We're holding auditions, but only a few brave souls have contacted us," says co-founder and guitarist Graham Shaw via e-mail. "Our reputation for being "difficult to get along with' seems to precede us. We're one of the few local bands that can sell out Slim's, Paradise Lounge, Cafe Du Nord, etc. on a regular basis; we have "major label interest'; just did SXSW; have specialty spins on modern rock radio nationwide; and still people are nervous to try out for the band. Suits us fine, cuz we're holding out for another hardy bastid like Carter. Like we wrote in our last newsletter, any potential member would have to a) play bass or drums like a son of a bitch, b) like a drink, c) be able to hold his own in a fistfight, d) own a copy of Queen II, and e) have a Ron Wood haircut."
Any drummer who fits these stringent requirements -- or any bassist, for that matter, since the last one got sacked nine months ago -- should contact the band at its Web site, www.petrolsf.com.
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