Out There 18 kicked off at the Walker with Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty, Entertainment by Dan Graham and Tony Oursler Featuring Japanther and the Huber Marionettes. Promoted as a “multimedia puppet-theater rock-opera,” seeing those words all strung together made it irresistable. I had to go. That night also seemed to be the Walker Family presentation, because I saw a number of departments representin’: visual arts, HR, accounting, education, visitor services, building ops, and program services. I was there with my Walker ‘dates,’ Christina A. and Joe K.
I had mixed feelings going in to the performance. On the one hand, I was excited to see the Huber Marionettes (of Being John Malkovich fame) and post-punk duo Japanther, but on the other hand, the narrative is set in the 60’s and seeing the flower power era distilled down to phrases like, “Far out, dude,” and “Whoa…what a trip!” makes me want to grind my teeth.
As it turned out, my teeth-grinding impulse wasn’t too far off the mark. The marionettes were certainly cool, and I loved the miniature sets built for them contrasted against the legs of the puppeteers – giants in this world. But the narrative was spotty – cut up in segments – and spliced with projections on the wall of the puppet theater. There had already been enough drug references to fuel another flower power era altogether, and I was just starting to lose hope of ever getting interested in this piece, when I caught some movement in the darkened box beside the puppet set. I could see the shadowy figures of Japanther moving into place. Then the first frantic poundings came out of Matt Reilly’s drum kit.
One moment I am irritated with the lack of story, the next I am slack-jawed and drooling. Totally captivated by this duo, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to stand up and rock out, or fall to my knees and worship at the altar of Japanther.
I chose to worship. The narrative could barely hold my attention and I lived for the spliced moments of Japanther. I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find distortion that sounds this lovely. Both members used rigged payphone receivers to filter their vocals. The energy contained in that little box was constantly threatening to spill out into the crowd (and I wished that it would!). When it reached the point that containment might break, the floor of the box slid forward toward the crowd. Drummer Matt Reilly had to reconstruct his drum kit after each song – such was the violence in that sterile box.
Less than an hour later, the show is over and I’m heartbroken. No more? The narrative ended with another coup by the youth and a weak declaration to ‘Never trust anyone over 10!’ But then I spot Japanther emerging from behind the stage and my little heart leapt again. Joe K. caught me, starry-eyed in my fangirl moment, with bassist, Ian Vanek:
Overheard as I’m leaving the event: “I want to have the drummer’s baby.”