Who let the Dogs in?

Who let the Dogs in?
Yard Dogs Road Show
Where: Starr Hill Music Hall
When: Wednesday, May 31, 8pm
Cost: $12 in advance/$15 at the door

In the early 1900s, touring circus acts routinely pulled into Charlottesville by train. They would unload their animals across from the current-day C&O and parade elephants, caged wildcats and baboons down our very own Main Street. The destination was a Big Top in the lot at Starr Hill. This Wednesday, the circus is coming back. They aren’t arriving by rail, but a new troupe of vaudevillians is descending upon our fair hamlet to offer up a heady dose of cabaret and classic side-show fare. Be forewarned: This isn’t your grandma’s circus. The Yard Dogs are a sur-ly blend of Coney Island thrills and lewd suggestiveness. These dust-bowl vagabonds are the real deal, reeking of train-yard wisdom and tattered freedom. They’re more of a Barnum & Bailey backstage free-for-all than the dancing ponies and clown cars of our innocent years.
    The Yard Dogs Road Show graced us last year with a Live Arts performance. The bellies (and imaginations) of a small audience were tickled pink by the animated personalities of the troop members, who now number 13 strong. The Dogs have morphed over the years from a jug-band trio traveling the West Coast in a Ford Comet to a gelatinous composition of revolving performers, multitalented freaks and head-scratching human oddities.
    The show is driven by the “Golden Wings of Glory,” with their self-styled “cartoon gypsy” sound: a sort of slide-whistle-meets-megaphone-meets-cowbell cocophany, with a slew of homemade acoustic contraptions wound in. It’s the perfect accompaniment—a score that Charlie Chaplin or Steamboat Willie would be right at home with.
    The music alone would make for a great night on the town, but the Yard Dogs’ mustachioed barker promises so much more. And boy, does he ever deliver. There’s an Indian sword swallower, “shanghaied from deep in the dark forests of Sonoma, India.” There’s a prolific flame-gulper who fronts the muscle-clad “Carnitas.“ There’s anatomical manipulation, guitar rock and crystal balls defying gravity, all in a sepia-toned haze of fishnets, confetti and snake-oil.
    And just when the old-timers are starting to yawn, out comes the sauce. Twin beauties Shanandoah Sassafrass and Gypsy Rose high-step onto the stage, twirling parasols as they lead the eight-legged cabaret act known as the Black and Blue Burlesque. The already overstimulated audience is met with a full-on burlesque—a titillating review that balances flash and crass on a floss-thin wire. Harkening to the bygone era of saloon-style showgirls, the ladies fire up latent libidos, bring a blush to demure cheeks, and leave theatergoers of both sexes purring at their dates.
    During the course of their decade-long run, the Yard Dogs have mingled with many counter-culture icons, including Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Wavy Gravy, Les Claypool and Jane’s Addiction. The members seem to agree that it was the publication of Hobo—a train-tramping travelogue by founding member Eddie Joe Cotton—that truly launched the act into the mainstream public consciousness. Last year the Yard Dog’s mischevious mayhem was well received in Rome and Milan, where, according to spokesman Freddy Broadway, they just missed having an audience with the Pope. This year the Dog’s road bus is crossing the country from their headquarters in Oakland, California, to share their twisted vision with the “hot and bothered” areas of the East.
    I say catch ’em while you can, folks. In this age of stale mass media and overpromoted reruns, these rascals still know how to enliven an audience the old-fashioned way—with a high-speed power drill through an upturned nostril. Top that, Taylor Hicks! Going to the dogs

Posted In:     Arts

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