Yard Dogs Road Show: Granada, Lawrence, KS 6/24/10

“Are you on drugs?”

Those were the first four words I heard following my voicemail describing Yard Dog Road Show in less than half a minute.  Thanks, guys.

They function as a souped-up house band for a touring carnival, and – with burlesque dancers, sword swallowing and optical mindfucks galore – the visual spectacle results in a well-rounded experience.

The 13-piece band sounds anything but cluttered, thanks to a rotating coterie of players and performers.  After some high-octane drumming by Sidecar Tommy in the show opener, trombonist Lily Rose Love steps up to slow it down, belting out “I want to live the life / I sing about in my songs” in a sultry, robust tone.

A few minutes later and a couple band members grab life-sized mannequins, drag them onstage, slide oversized keys into their backs, and with a solid twist the dolls spring to life, dancing fluidly.  Par for the course, really.  These guys make the Flaming Lips seem tame, but their blend of acid-tinged absurdity is bolstered by impeccable musicianship that propels the show without hint of a miscue.

The Lawrence crowd, a couple hundred strong on a Thursday night, packed the floor in front of the stage for the duration, including one dreadlocked parent whose three-year-old soaked up the demented circus, surely twisted for life by the experience.

Toward the middle of the set, Tobias the Mystic Man (credited on the band’s Wiki page for “Contraptions and Mysticism”) busts out a small, clear sphere and keeps it spinning to the point where it appears to keep enough rotation to float on its own, his forearms mere conveyer belts for the Harlem Globetrotter-esque stunt. 

With bass, drums, bells and Lily on trombone as his backing band, Tobias ditches the ball and promptly swallows a 37-inch sword before finishing with a palate-cleansing metal chair leg. 

At this point, it’s reasonable to wonder what the band audition was like:  “Well, you can certainly play a mean bass.  What else?”

They slow to a lounge-ish pace with YDRS founder Eddy Joe Cotton stepping up to the mic in carnival barker fashion, “How the hell are ya?”

He introduces a new character to the mix:  “We found this next guy in a pool of Absinthe in Vegas back in 1999.  He’s been to rehab 757 times.”

With that, the band roars into “Los Angeles Television” which sustained a hard, punkish vibe for several minutes. 
The cartoon-like vaudeville cavalcade continued with trumpeter Kid Casbah eyeing a “Do Not Push” button affixed to a replica dynamite plunger detonator used during turn-of-the-century mining.  Curiosity struck, and upon the push he lost all his clothes, playing the next tunes wearing only a necktie and boxers.

Not to be outdone, Tobias returns with the highlight of the night, swallowing an elongated purple balloon. As he’s removing that, he instead pulls a five-foot multi-colored feather boa.  He gathers the string, crumples it together and, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, produces a live chicken.

The set lasted a little over an hour and the band returned for the encore a few notches past 10:30.

Lily, introduced as a Kansas native, drove the band musically as Eddy Joe serenaded the crowd through the final number, replete with an illuminated smoke ring machine aimed at the audience.

“You guys are totally beautiful.  Cuddle up.  It’s time to make out a little bit.  Grab some flesh.  A little butt or hip would work.  Let’s all make love tonight.” 

He stopped.

“But not in a modern, vulgar way.  We are all in this together people.  Let’s reclaim the dignity of those words.  We’re makin’ love right now!”

And with that final blast of fanfare, the touring band of gypsies vanished into the ether, boarding the bus for the next destination as the audience filtered out of The Granada, jabbering about chickens, belly dancers, and deep-throating chair legs.  Oh, and some music too.

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