Firesign Theater Feb. 5, 2005
Firesign Theater: Hand Me the Pliars at Cerritos By Glen Creason
As sad as it is to remember it was 35 years ago that I sat cross-legged on a dorm room floor in historic Weyburn Hall and listened to my first “Firesign Theater” album. It seems that almost any party featured at least a slice of “Don’t Crush That Dwarf” or “I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus” while all of my pals shouted punchlines and inhaled the fumes of the late sixties. Phrases such as “squeeze the wheeze,” “groat cakes again!” and places called Cunegonde have survived these four decades and are entered in indelible ink on the pages of our now graying memories. Firesign may have been four guys named Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman and Phil Proctor but we knew and loved them as Nick Danger, Officer Bradshaw, Eleanor and Lilly Lamont. They were the best part of the counter-culture’s assault on normality, so far past the bounds of the status quo that it delights today to remember just how crazily unique their routines unfolded.
Still, lots of stuff from the sixties seemed cool then and now don’t look so great under our bifocals. Skin tight pants, sleeping on the floor of crash pads, smoking, hitch-hiking and ear-splitting music come to mind. If you remember the smells of a be-in you can identify I’m sure. Anyway, “Firesign Theater” came to the Performing Arts Center on Saturday night and we had to be there to see and hear it. Those of us now on the dark side of 50 with our white hair (if we still have any) and broadened horizons so to speak were more than curious about how the boys would fare in today’s strange times.
The good news is that the group performed mostly new material and by George they still have it. At first it seems a little strained as the audience had precious few familiar lines to shout back at the performers but soon they got wrapped up in the weirdness that is the fabric of the guys’ humor. The few times when they did go back to the old stuff the hard core fans sat up in their chairs and repeated nuances that bolted out of the subconscious like creatures from the deep sea. The bad news is that if you weren’t there in the beginning through the thickets of off-beat sound effects and characters you probably wouldn’t have a clue what this was all about (right Amy?!) This time we began in a place called Bilville and raced through routines as offbeat and unexplainable as ever. There was the obvious Martha Blueitt, some particularly hilarious school menus, “Reverend Me” lampooning TV preachers, a soap called “Lawyer’s Hospital” and the smooth Hind’s Travelogue” that took us places unmapped in reality. “The Upstage Players” twisted Shakespeare, “Radio Now” gave us “rat in a box” and old pal “Ralph ‘Spoiledsport” the familiar car huckster brought back some dusty old memories. Liverface the butcher made an appearance, ditto Uncle Pharoah, Yves St. Stool and dear darling Nick Danger held court to the final gun. Despite the far fetched premises and wildly original situations there were messages in the tom-foolery including the absurdity of making war, chasing money and trying to buy creativity. Despite scrutiny the boys haven’t faced since Kenny Jones’ probing interview back in the day “Firesign Theater” was up to the task of laughter, the kind of clever, insightful and absolutely unparalleled craziness that has not been heard for many a moon. We left singing a song and remembering better days. “Porgy Tirebiter! He's a spy and a girl delighter, Orgie Firefighter! He's just a student like you. If you're looking for a Captain of the Ringball Team, You can bet he won't be there. You'll find him pa-popping off at Pop's Sodium Shoppe, Tr-trailing a red, with red hair. Doobie doo-wah... Porgy Tirebiter! Just a student like you! (PORGY:) "Like me?!" Just a student like you! (Father:) "Stop singing and finish your homework !" Just a student like you! ooooooooooo..."