The dimly lit basement of Baltimore's Bell Foundry building is out ofan early '80s hardcore show. Pocked concrete walls tagged everywhereand with everything -- "kill cops," for example -- weird dark little alcoves of dust and foundation debris, a long steep bomb shelterstaircase, cheap beer and whiskey, and all underneath some kind oflabyrinthine ex-industrial building in a dark pocket of midtown Baltimore. Onstage, however, are Dan Deacon and fellow Wham City collective member Connor Kizer (of the Santa Dads costume-pop duo) dressed as bumbling cops doing an improv skit -slyly riffing on a TheWire storyline - that could've held water with the State or, hell, Kids In the Hall, at their best.
This is Thursday's opening night of the Wham City comedy tour, the Baltimore art collective's first non-music outing since 2007's Jurassic Park send-up/mash-note (sorry if you missed that). The Deacon/Kizer duo is actually an old thing, a comedy project called theRam Ones that almost certainly predates the first time most of usheard the name Deacon or Wham City. Comedy's been with the group, somewhere around two dozen strong, since its inception as a bunch of scrappy art kids/friends from New York state. It's even remarked by Kizer at the very beginning of the three hour-plus show that a comedy tour's been a dream of Wham City since the collective came into being.
The thing is, Baltimore knows anentirely different Wham City, one that extends way past the name Dan Deacon. It's a collective of hilarious weirdos that dig on the absurd. It's performance art, oddball and experimental theater, film, comics,and, yes, Wham City is comedy. More so, comedy is the thing that connects all of the above Consider this tour a vital piece of the collective's evolution on the national stage, a chance to showeveryone else what Baltimore already knows.
The show is a broad hybrid of things, over 20 acts of stand-up, skits, music, and a very broad "other."
Kizer, playing the archetypal patient, but being asked to peer into his doctor's very, very exposed asshole.
Avant-garde musician/David Bowie impersonator/internet talk show host Ed Schrader singing a busted-upsong about "kids jail" involving kids meeting various forms of execution.
Dan Deacon reworking the audio from a particularly choice segment of The Wizard of Oz backed by a building, anxious bassline to an effect as sinister as it is funny.
Performance artist/ventriloquist April Camlin having a few very heavy existential moments: "What happens to me when we die?" asks her dummy.
Truth be told, the Wham City comedy tour is full of a ton of bleak,cutting stuff. Maybe that's another misconception about the group: that it's full of cartoon people that live cartoon lives. Watching nearly all of them do comedy, you can't shake the feeling that, funny or not, the collective's stacked with some seriously cynical people.
Video artist Alan Resnick's frankly brilliant spoof of motion capture technology or Mason Ross' - one of the collective's only straight-upcomics - extended skit/play "At the End of Infinite Rope," about humankind's looming techno-doom, transcend ha-ha funny altogether and windup just smart, witty, and pit-dark postcards of doom. Which, afterall, is what the best comedy is made of.