At an age when most surviving pop groups grind out a living with warmed over retreads of greatest hits, the Bobs still shine, breaking new ground each time they tunnel out of the sanitorium. Twenty-four years together qualifies as geriatric in the music biz and it’s clear that the group never kept all its marbles in one box from the get-go, making their ongoing ability to surprise and delight audiences a rare treasure indeed.
The twin keys to the group’s creative safe deposit box are unflagging dedication to vocal excellence and utter disregard for everything else. The Capitol Steps are occasionally as funny, and the Roches and the Mockingbirds sometimes achieve similar a capella excellence. But do those Bobs wannabes also brandish power tools?
I thought not.
Long reknowned for their Grammy nominated rendition of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” and a Clapton-stomping version of Cream’s “White Room,” the Bobs are happily unwilling to rest on their bobbels. The current tour, “Rhapsody in Bob,” showcases the group’s virtuosity at every bend in the notes, from a warped love paeon to a costumed sandwich man flogging fast food to their Olde English madrigal version of Jim Morrison’s “Light my Fire,” or a spot-on delivery of the 30s Louis Jordan swing tune “Nobody here but us chickens.” And despite what must be long practiced and oft repeated patter, their Asheville performance, Nov. 17, felt consistently fresh.
Amy Bob Engelhardt the sole girl-Bob, laced the group’s patter with zingers, often two jumps ahead of an audience whose late laughter gradually burbled across the hall as jokes soaked in. Tangled mic cords elicted a call for “Conditioner, anyone?” and a segment where conversation between the four performers devolved into barked confusion brought Engelhardt’s carefree, “Tourette’s!” A riff on the name of a nearby Carolina town, “Cullowee. Culloh-weee! Cuh low weeeeee!” morphed into “Cullowee, Cullowah, with a knapsack on my back.”
Underlain by Richard Bob Greene’s mellifluous bass, and Matthew Stull ‘s ebullient tenor, with (the tallest Bob ever), Dan Bob Schumacher’s beat-boxing and vocals soaring into the ozone, the ensemble was in excellent form as they headed into the second half of their show, a nearly orchestral delivery of “Rhapsody in Blue.” The only disappointment in their otherwise stellar rendition of Gershwin’s piece is a heavy reliance on piano, though it is, after all, a piano piece and 88 keys might have been an overload for four voices filling in for the rest of an orchestra. The clarinet was to die for. Guest pianist Bob Malone provided a flashy half time show with his very physical, attack-the-keyboard style, but his approach to Gershwin felt heavy handed.
The Rhapsody in Bob CD captures all of the vocal excellence and some of the humor of the live show and is worth a listen. But, if I had to choose, I’d put the CD money in my gas tank and catch up with the tour before the Department of Homeland Security drags them back to their cages. Nothing is safe from skewering with the Bobs on the loose.