Posing the Questions at Theatre Bizarre
The beat of the drums makes it sound like some kind of dark, tribal sacrifice; some midnight offering like a witches' Sabbath in a concrete jungle of urban decay.
It is, to a degree, a sacrifice, as Questions singer/guitarist Drew Bardo has told me before. This is less a typical rock show and more an expelling of demons, galvanizing the subconscious and making an offering to the gods.
Drew may be shirtless when he slithers and struts onto the stage, his face concealed by a red Mardi Gras bird mask, brandishing a bull-horn and sermonizing freestyle poetry over the possessing rhythms of his accomplice and beatnik brother, Will Linna, whose face is enwrapped with a bandanna and sunglasses.
This time, to celebrate the release of their second album, Karma Tsunami (and ain’t THAT just what this generation’s a-gettin’), the duo (and sometimes loose-knit collective) who brandish haunting honky-tonk and shredded grunge-folk, will play live at local artist collective / bizarro carnival / nightmarish amusement park Theatre Bizarre’s annual Halloween party.
Or as Drew puts it, “The subterranean shadow dancers, the bohemian midnight, with a very elemental sort of magnetism. It’s a very spiritual event in a lot of ways, whenever you get a lot of people that come together with that much energy, you’re bound to call on the gods, you’re bound to bark at the moon and really pull the stars from the sky, watch the planets collide.”
Theatre Bizarre started eight years ago when artist John Dunivant and carpenter Ken Poirer decided to collaborate on a Halloween party that combined John's boundless, brilliant vision with Ken's house on W. State Fair Ave. From 2000-2005, the Theatre Bizarre Halloween party garnered legendary status as the ultimate freakshow costume-ball celebration and outdoor concert. "We have amazing friends who are looking for a place to vent their creativity," said Ken.
Entry into Theatre Bizarre means entry into the immeasurably deranged and monstrous mind of serial killer Edgar Joseph Torrent, who, like all famous murderous psychotics, idolized his domineering mother and snapped when his father cheated on her with the four-legged woman from the carnival freakshow, creating a horrific fantastic distortion of the carnival he escaped to after murdering 47 people. "When he killed people," regales Ken, "he would skin them and create different freak bodies and carnival-type sideshow freaks."
The work begins two months before Halloween. Every year the duo, with the aid of sometimes upwards of 30 CCS graduates and dedicated friends, get to work designing and preparing for this remarkable masquerade of stunning chaos, flames, zombies, music, blood, carnage and unsettling carnival attractions. A skull-faced clown possesses you into Hell's burlesque, with the only blurry evidence of reality's remaining stability being the ominous moon above you.
Meanwhile, the Questions have been busy since early spring working at Carlot Sound in Pontiac. The stress has been evident on Drew through the summer months, though the band still managed to make some war-whooping blues-punk appearances. "We've been working on three simultaneous albums,” said Drew of the ballooning workload. “The next one tentatively titled: Welcome to the Wild Unborn Dream.”
I talk about some of the more overt folk sounds that materialize on Karma but it’s still not a sign of his wayward tastes taking root. “I’m a singer-songwriter, not a rock singer or a blues singer or anything,” he says. “Whatever sort of muse I’m tripping on at the current time is what I roll with — it’s all an unconscious process.”
On the grinding metal entry “Fix Elevator,” he repudiates the occidental culture, government and religion.
“I just couldn’t stand not saying ‘FUCK OFF’ to these soul sucking vermin who immediately infiltrate your life as soon as you're born and begin programming your life path to behave according to their best interest — not necessarily your own,” he says. “I would rather die than sell my autonomy for this big fucking lie they call ‘the American Dream.’ But through all the piss and vinegar, the song offers a bit of optimism — in the main hook; ‘Fix Elevator’.”
The band was birthed between Drew and old friend, bassist Matt Kleinhenn, who’d been congregating and creating on the west coast in the late-'90s and then back here in Michigan after the millennium. Matt has moved on but occasionally still collaborates. Will simply walked in for a try-out, but it turned out to be fate:
“Will and I are like brothers,” Drew said. “He has a great sense of adventure, he understands the temporary nature of life and the impermanence of all this.”
That led me to ask about any investment they have in Buddhism (“Bardo” is Tibetan Buddhists’ word for the dream state following death) to which Drew responds that the Questions don’t really subscribe to any particular religion or philosophy, but are heavily invested in mythology, specifically the writings of Joseph Campbell.
Drew describes himself as “an antennae of the collective consciousness, I don’t believe that any music I’ve ever written belongs to me, it belongs to all of us. It’s an intricately woven tapestry and we’re all stitches of the same consciousness.”
A gritty viscera of blues, punk and folk, the mad bohemians of the Questions continue to ruminate on this wayward “Generation-Why?” and will release the confessions of Karma Tsunami in the glorious madness of Theatre Bizarre’s terrifying masquerade.
“When people believe,” said Drew, “for even just one night, that the world is their stage, that’s important to me — for people to be able to exercise their inner fantasy.” | RDW
Questions • 10/20 • Theatre Bizarre (sold-out!)
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