Friday, August 10, 2018

Fringe 2018 - Review - Self-Titled Debut Album - 5 Stars

tweet review - #mnfringe show 35 - Self-Titled Debut Album - such a deceptively simple gimmick: each song gives us character, plot, spotlights a different part of the band; the songs are so damn clever (and meta, but not annoying - bonus); delivers on its promise in a big way - 5 stars

First up, if you haven’t seen the previous chapter of this indy music-based saga, Demo Tape, no worries.  There’s no need to be familiar with the original to enjoy the sequel.  In fact, Self-Titled Debut Album is that rarest of things, the sequel that is better than the original.  I wasn’t able to take the time to revisit Demo Tape on YouTube prior this year’s Fringe, but my main feeling approaching this new show was caution.  Because the main thing I remember about my experience with Demo Tape was - well, disappointment.  Not that it was a bad show.  It wasn’t.  But the Fringe preview was SO funny, I was expecting more. 

“I play the first and third beats in every song.
How else would white people know when to clap along?”

And the Fringe preview for Demo Tape was the same formula as their recent preview for Self-Titled Debut Album.  Philip Simondet steps out on stage and delivers the title song from the show, which is catchy, smart, meta, and very, very funny.  While he does this, Erin Kennedy hurries onstage right behind him and sets down a guitar case.  She opens it up for people to toss in tips.  Then she pulls handfuls of CD jewel cases cleverly imprinted with the show’s postcard art and show info.  She also pulls out handfuls of the show postcards.  And she hurries into the crowd and hands them out in as apologetic and awkward a way as possible.  Meanwhile, she keeps an eye and an ear out for an opportunity to also play guitar or sing the song, but she never gets an opening from Simondet despite repeated attempts.  Very few Fringe previews beat Demo Tape or Self-Titled Debut Album for fun and laughs.  But the recent preview just gave me flashbacks to my hope and anticipation for the original, and that slightly let down feeling.  So I was wary.  Please, this time, let the show be as good as the preview.  And with Self-Titled Debut Album, it was.

“When I couldn’t find the pitch,
You would give me the D.”

Simondet and company have cracked the code of what makes this Fringe show work.  More music, less script.  The songs are so smart and funny, and invested with character, you barely need dialogue.  Self-Titled Debut Album takes the ragtag band assembled by the end of Demo Tape, and gets them in the studio to record an album, thanks to a successful online fundraising campaign among their friends and family.  But now Philip is feeling the pressure, time is running short, and everyone’s being - well, an artist - about the process.  Philip’s still on lead guitar and vocals, Erin’s on drums, John Genz is on lead guitar, Will “Scooter” Roberts is on bass guitar, and Eric (please call me T-Bone) Heiberg is trying valiantly to figure out how the sound board works.

“It’s easy to make noise.  It’s tough making music.”

The simplicity and brilliance here is that each song introduces a different element of the band, and different layers of everyone’s character, individually and collectively.  So Erin starts us off with a drum-based song that’s her sound check.  Then the whole band kicks in recording the title track.  John gets his solo moment with the song “Third Wheel.”  Scooter’s bass track recording becomes his own lament about the challenges of being a bass player.  Erin and John do a duet on one of her old songs, that reveals some personal information which makes Philip uncomfortable.  Then Philip has a “One Man Band” solo meltdown trying and failing in high comic fashion to play all the instruments himself.  And then, conflicts resolved, all the songs that came before blend together in the recording of the big closing track on the album and the show.  It sounds almost too simple, but the songs are all so smart and funny that the show just hums right along, and you feel sorry that it has to end (so it ends exactly when it should).

“What I’m trying to say is - thank you for limiting me.”

Everyone involved here is great.  Good songs, good laughs.  That’s why Self-Titled Debut Album is the sequel that surpasses the original.  Well done. 

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

Here's some handy links to reviews of 5 Star Shows, 4.5 Star Shows, 4 Star Shows, 3 Star Shows, and my full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

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