(PHOTO: The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps of Rosemont perform "Mad World" July 1 in Oswego. Courtesy of cavaliers.org.)
Last Thursday, I headed over to the AMC in South Barrington, plopped down my $18 and attended the live simulcast of the quarterfinals of the Drum Corps International World Championships taking place at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, the same place where Payton Manning makes a living.
I don't know what I found more disturbing -- the middle-aged woman in the row in front of me sitting with her legs up on a railing as if she were going to give birth OR that a good many of the bands played scary shows.
Times are tough, and it's reflected in the performances, which, for the uninitiated, can seem strange anyway.
Take, for instance, the Cavaliers of Rosemont. The theme of the group's 12-minute show was "Mad World," that Tears for Fears song remade a few years ago as a haunting ballad.
The drill team in the all-male Cavaliers was dressed in trench coats, which was way too much of a reminder of Columbine for my tastes. Actually, after looking at Cavalier pictures online, the coats also recall Billy Idol videos from the 1980s. The team bellowed military chants about their rifles as they twirled and contorted. They formed a "Mad Circle" with some props, too. And, when the corps performed the Charlie Chaplin chestnut "Smile," the members donned white masks.
I half expected Heath Ledger to return from the dead as the Joker during the performance, which also seemed like an outtake from the director's cut of the last Batman flick.
As of Thursday night, the Cavaliers were in second place, behind the Blue Devils from California.
More scarily fabulous, or fabulously scary, drum corps performances (including the corps from nearby Rockford), after the jump.
The Blue Devils' show used the music of jazz great Stan Kenton set to the theme "Through a Glass Darkly." Glass in this case meant a dozen or so mirrors, each eight feet tall. To end the performance, the drum major ran toward one of the mirrors to the sound of breaking glass, mostly likely made from one of the electronic keyboards.
Yup, drum corps use synthesized noises of all sorts now. And props. And they dance. Not just the drill team members, but a lot of the horn players. Dancing loses something on a football field, but what do I know?
There's quite a bit of flopping around on the ground or just plain laying flat on the ground, too, during quite a few of the shows. In fact, part of the Carolina Crown effort seemed like an old Busby Berkeley movies with swimmer Esther Williams but without the pool.
Another corps, the Phantom Regiment from Rockford, called their show "Into the Light," and it seemed like an elegiac meditation on death. The Santa Clara Vanguard performed the music of Bela Bartok. The host Blue Stars had drill team members in straight jackets and did magic tricks in a show ostensibly about Harry Houdini scored to the music of modern classical composers Philip Glass and John Adams.
Hey, after all the above, it was hard to sleep that night. OK, that was probably because of the popcorn coated in the death oil they call butter. But still...
Oh, there was some comic relief. The Cadets had a show about "Little Jeffrey," who grows up to become a drum major. Little Jeffrey looked a bit like Adam Sandler, which made it all the more annoying. A couple corps looked like they would have been at home in the Broadway musical version of "Shrek." That included the Boston Crusaders extravaganza which uses a giant throne as a prop.
Don't get me wrong. You can't beat a wall of brass and drums coming at you for a wallop of a musical experience. And the sound quality put the system at AMC to good use.
I'm just easily confused by a combo platter of pageantry, arty music, Las Vegas and Broadway glitz, props, rifles, flags, special hairdos, makeup and sound effects thrown in for good measure. It's only a matter of time before one of these corps opens for Lady Gaga or winds up part of some museum installation.
See for yourself at DCI.org. The final scores from the weekend's championship should be online. Oddly, though there was a webcast of Friday's semifinals, the finals only will be available on DVD and to run at a later date on some PBS affiliates.
Also, to find out some of the behind-the-scenes drama, CNN recently ran a piece about the business side of the Drums Corps International organization.
-- Mike Danahey, Staff Writer