Neil Innes, a humorist for all occasions, appeared with two supporting musicians at the Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday, May 17, 2006. Innes showcased almost an entire new album's worth of material from Works In Progress; his new 2005 studio release.
Innes simply walked out to hesitant applause before offering a greeting to those in attendance. Picking up an acoustic guitar, Innes sang an abbreviated take of "I'm The Urban Spaceman". He then began to recall days gone by when he and fellow comedians began to perform together.
Innes talked about how the members of The Bonzo Do Dah Dog Band would rehearse together and their ability to cultivate an audience. They would search out old and odd 78 RPM titles to learn and add to their repertoire. He also discussed his growing association with Monty Python's Flying Circus, and the early BBC television project they created.
Innes treated the crowd to some of the humorous lyrics recorded on those outdated pieces of vinyl. "I'm Going To Bring A Watermelon to My Girl Tonight" and "My Brother Makes The Noises For The Talkies" were sang solo with Innes at the keyboards. He invited the audience to shout out a vocal bit for them during "On Her Doorstep Last Night".
While the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band were recording at EMI Studios on Abbey Road in 1966, another famous British quartet were in a studio down the hall, The Fabs. Innes eavesdropped on a session where Harrison was rehearsing "I Want To Tell You" with The Beatles. He sang a brief version of this classic off Revolver to keyboard accompaniment.
Backing musicians J.J. Jones on drums and Tom Fry on bass appeared on stage to join Innes on acoustic guitar for an unplugged romp on "Face Mail In The Meat Zone", a tale of the modern I.T. age and middle age from the new album, possibly the standout track from Works in Progress.
Innes paused the performance to promote tour sponsorship from Fiasco Superstores. The trio immediately donned sun glasses becoming Rory Motion and the Drainpipes. "Absurd Reductions" and "Cockadoodle Tatoes", complete with a rooster crow from a male member in the audience, were two commercial jingles the band interjected.
"Eine Kleine Middle Klasse Musik", one of two Rutles songs in the setlist from the 1996 album, featured a cool groove. The rearranged coda included a huff and puff ad lib by Innes, which morphed into him feigning being out of breath like a self-abusive jogger. Innes proceeded with another comic tangent, ranting about reality t.v. before launching into the "Four-in-One Hand Floss" jingle.
Featuring a subtle reggae style on "All Alone", Innes played a Ukulele, inciting the crowd to join him on the chorus. After a rousing round of applause, Innes lectured about barbarism vs. decadence and a disappointment in civilization. He further mentioned his involvement with a 1970s organization named SNAP, the Society for Non Ambitious People.
The folk-rock thrust of "Ego Warriors" was a focal point for the concert, which segued into a vocal pledge by audience members. The crowd recited a creed to join the ranks of Ego Warriors by placing their thumbs on the end of their nose with fingers extended. Then with mock sincerity, Innes slipped in the lyrics to "Help Me Rhonda". Upon completion, Innes barked to the new members, "You're in!".
Before exiting at intermission, Innes plugged his touring merchandise being sold by his wife at the Fiasco Superstore kiosk in the venue foyer. Some seated in the crowd sang along on "The Philosopher Song", a humorous and folksy tune, which ended the first set.
Innes reappeared alone with a large yellow duckhead, blowing bubbles with a quacking device. He sang "How Sweet To Be An Idiot" seated on keyboards. Performing what he classifies as Hitch HiKu on an odd triangular-shaped acoustic guitar, "Evening Sun" was another interesting musical piece from the new album.
Announcing "Rutalot" - a show within a show, Innes sat behind the keyboards and treated the audience to an all too brief medley of original Rutles songs from 1978. Innes turned to a solemn mood to remember absent friends when introducing "Friends At The End", a moving ballad that closes Works In Progress.
Two more tunes off the new album closed the evening. However, the soft-folk touch of "One Of Those People" was reminiscent of a 1986 Paul Simon "melody . Fry's bass solo was a welcomed highpoint. "Hero Of The Motorway" sported a mild country flavor with Innes on acoustic guitar. The subtle band jam was another highlight preceding an abrupt finish.
For the encore, Innes performed a complete version of his 1968 single, "I'm The Urban Spaceman" with Fry accompanying on flute for the intro. Innes stated he had lived through the `60s. He then then quipped at age 60.1, he would have to live through them again.
Innes shared his thoughts on aging and the enjoyment of his six year old grandson Max before singing a stellar rendition of "Back In `64", another Rutles song. The poignancy of the lyrics have grown over the last decade, and the band earned a standing ovation at the end their performance.
Carl Lichtner, house sound engineer for ST94, does an amazing job adjusting the sound for all of the diverse artists and bands that visit the Sellersville Theater. A roster of renown performers have been appearing at this historic landmark. The intimate venue provides the perfect ambiance to experience the enjoyment of musicians live on stage.
The Sellersville Theater stands as an architectural example of Victorian style from 1894. Sellersville is a picturesque place out of the way just 32 miles North of Philadelphia. The quaint little town remains untouched by the progress of modern encroachment.
Sellersville setlist: I'm The Urban Spaceman > I'm Going To Bring A Watermelon To My Girl Tonight > On Her Doorstep Last Night > My Brothers Makes The Noises For The Talkies * I Want To Tell You > Ballad Of Sir Robin * Face Mail In The Meat Zone * Rory Motion * Eine Kleine Middle Klasse Musik * Never Alone * All Alone * Ego Warriors > Help Me Rhonda * The Philosopher Song * intermission * How Sweet To Be An Idiot * Charlie Big Potatoes * Evening Sun * Godfrey Daniel * Doubleback Alley > Good Times Roll > Another Day > Cheese And Onions (Rutalot medley) * Friends At The End * Eye Candy * One Of Those People * Hero Of The Motorway * Encore: I'm The Urban Spaceman * Back In `64
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Comedic humor in progress
Neil Innes recalls the immediacy of vaudeville in Sellersville
by Timothy Tilghman