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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Show Review: Lonely Island @ The Rose Dinner Theater in Pasadena

Show Review:
Lonely Island
@ The Rose Dinner Theater in Pasadena

    When I received word that the Lonely Island would be playing a warm up show at a Pasadena Dinner Theater (The Rose: Where Music Meets the Soul (TM)) over Memorial Day Weekend, I leapt at the opportunity to attend.   I've driven or walked past this venue, formerly a Gelson's Grocery Store stuck in the bottom corner of a movie theater/restaurant/shopping complex in Pasadena, across from the convention center, twenty times in the past several years, and always wondered what a venue located in a grocery store would be like to experience.

   The answer is, perhaps predictably, "Laughably terrible."  To accommodate the legions(!) of excited Lonely Island fans the normally present dinner tables had been removed from the floor, leaving the lines of sight of a space not made for standing crowd viewing, and a hugely over crowded, non ADA accessible "VIP Platform," featuring luminaries like JB Smoove and failed sitcom star John Mullaney.  Adding to the moderately oppressive atmosphere was the omnipresent security staff, behaving like the artist performing was Chief Keef or Takeshi69 and not a joke-rap trio featuring three adults from the San Francisco Bay Area.

  I don't have any prejudices against joke-rap or novelty music in general.  If you take a look at the history of the Billboard pop chart, novelty numbers were charting number ones before rock and roll existed as a chart phenomenon.  Acts like Alvin and the Chipmunks and Sheb Wooley (Purple People Eater) have just as much to tell us about the history of recorded music in America as Elvis Presley or The Beatles, maybe more, since the novelty numbers preceded rock and roll.

  The upcoming Lonely Island appearance at a comedy festival in San Francisco, billed as their first live performance, had puzzled me, since I distinctly remember seeing them perform at the Festival Supreme in 2013.  Here is a review of that show from  At the time, Spin said, "Lonely Island snuck a tight mini-set inside Tenacious D’s climactic performance, which included the duo’s giant robot, the Metal, and an oversized alien."   After reviewing the poster for that edition of Festival Supreme, I see that Lonely Island was not billed.  The 2013 appearance was a "surprise" and unbilled, and so, in conclusion, I see why they are billing this performance as their first ever.

   Fans of Lonely Island are sure to love the show, which features bespoke animations for almost every song.  They handle the absence of the numerous guest singers using a variety of techniques.  Sometimes the accompanying visual simply displayed the missing artist.  Other times, one of the Lonely Islanders would take the place of the missing performer. For the Justin Timberlake triptych performance, Asa Taccone used a Justin Timberlake puppet- acquitting himself quite well on the puppetry. As befits their origin as a viral video phenomenon, the bespoke visuals were themselves an attraction of the live performance.  Considering the awful sight lines of The Rose Dinner Theater in Pasadena, watching the screen was more rewarding then watching the stage itself.

  The group itself was, as the saying goes, "tan, rested and ready."  I'm not at all clear at what they've been doing besides Andy Samberg starring on Brooklyn 99.  My understanding is that they have "a deal" with Fox, of the sort where one can sit around and not do anything.  Clearly, some of that time was spent making the videos for this performance, and I suppose puppetry lessons for Taccone.   Only one of the songs came from their succesful(?) movie Pop Star, with Samberg as movie protagonist Conor 4 Real.

 Much of the material reprised their greatest SNL hits, Jizz in My Pants, Lazy Sunday.  Less of the material drew from their non-SNL albums, of which, amazingly, they have two, plus the Pop Star sound track.  A highlight was a new song, about the "Bash Brothers," Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, which has seemingly been written for the San Francisco audience of their upcoming comedy festival.  In Pasadena, in front of a sea of Los Angeles based comedy nerds, the song only got intermittent laughs, but I was hooting.

  The end of the set, about an hour long, had a surprise guest, but I won't ruin the surprise here. The Rose Dinner Theater in Pasadena is a crazy place to have a show.  Wild. 

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