Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cheech & Chong, live @ The Morris Performing Arts Center, April 11, 2010 (review)


What do you expect from a Cheech & Chong concert? A lot of pot jokes, right? Some of the old routines from the albums, how the boomer and gen-x crowd (the latter being my generation), some Q&A, some songs, etc., right? That's pretty much what the show was, with some interesting surprises and insights from two of the most recognizable counterculture's personalities.

Even though the war on drugs is hardly over with the election of Barack Obama, it's safe to come out, and the duo beckon everyone to do likewise. Fear and loathing were not the main themes of the night. For most of us, Cheech & Chong were untouchable icons who were over and done with after the 1986 album "Get Out of My Room," a pretty lackluster coda at that, and their movies weren't especially funny by then either.

But imagine it:
Cheech & Chong haven't done a show in South Bend, at the Morris since 1977. 1977. That's 33 years ago, an entire generation. The world is beyond changed from that time after the Reagan blight (still ongoing). The next year, the comedy duo would foist "Up in Smoke" on the world, grossing $100 million at the box office and holding the record for the most successful comedy for a little over two decades. Americans still smoke a lot of pot, but I have to wonder if a film like Up in Smoke would do as well today. Very possibly looking at the polls when it comes to legalization! The real treat of the night for me was when Cheech began talking about Tommy Chong's days up in Vancouver during the early 1960s when he was playing with the R&B combo of Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers (one of their sometime stage names was rumored to be "Four Niggers & a Chink"). Cheech had fled the United States in 1967 along with a lot of other Americans to avoid the draft.

Chong had started up a blues club in Vancouver in 1962, began playing with the Vancouvers not long after that, and in a few years, they were discovered by the management of the Supremes and on Motown records, charting at #29 on the R&B charts for Chong's co-written "Does Your Momma Know About Me?" The Supremes went on to do a rendition of the song that Cheech later saw a copy of, and noticed the co-writer was a "T. Chong," right before he met Tommy. Rumors that Jimi Hendrix played with the Vancouvers are unfounded according to Chong, but he played his song during the show with Cheech accompanying him on vocals. What was a little sad is how it became evident that Cheech & Chong began as a musical duo and kind of wanted to do that mainly, but that nobody knew when they were kidding or not simply because they were and are entertainers who are just inherently funny.

This was the case at the Morris when they did this song--some audience members actually began laughing at what was a fairly heartfelt rendition of a really great song, but oh well, they got to enjoy being a musical act anyway. What makes them funny is what makes Mel Brooks and a lot of the comedy of the 1970s funny: obvious, dopey (in their case, literally) humor. Sketches like "Dave," "Let's Make a Dope Deal," "Blind Melon Chitlin," and even trotted out the character "Hairy Palms," a real treat! The sketches were also a reminder that the majority of C&C sketches aren't funny because they're about drugs.

Chong's chops as a guitarist were excellent and Marin showed that he does indeed have a very pleasant voice and put it to good use. Besides that, the duo did fine renditions of "Save the Whales" (from the opening of the movie "Nice Dreams," a favorite of mine), "Basketball Jones" (1973), "Earache My Eye" (1974, just the song, not the entire sketch), "Born in East L.A." (which is really closer to a solo thing for Marin), "Beaners" (from "Next Movie"), "Mexican Americans" (ditto), and a few others I was too stoned to remember at the time, or even now.

But the show basically began with Shelby Chong conducting a kind of Q&A about where they'd been all these years, Chong's time in prison, the state of the nation and the war on drugs, and even a few personal tidbits about the comedy team that were both funny and sometimes harrowing to hear. Chong seems pretty unfazed and unafraid to speak out against marijuana prohibition thanks to his nine months in federal prison and spoke of how easy it was "to kick" smoking pot when he went inside and extolled the health benefits of the soft drug as did wife Shelby. Cheech was unapologetic as well and has said in recent months that he realized he was "never going to escape" the legacy of Cheech & Chong. So be it.

To say that there are a lot of "heads" in Michiana would be an understatement: the place was packed and you could see nearly everyone heading on foot to the venue imbibing in the sacred plant, so really, you didn't even need to bring anything since a contact high would have probably done you straight anyway. My mother saw C&C in 1972 at the Morris, so this was truly a full circle affair. Was it a good show? Did we laugh? Yes we did, and sometimes at the most innocuous things Cheech & Chong said about themselves and their lives. A good evening out all around, catch them if you can...literally. They still got it folks, they still got it, and people shouldn't have to apologize for being heads, it's harmless. They were unapologetic, as it should be.