At the Orpheum on April 13. Continues April 14
Conan O’Brien told a sold-out, enthusiastic crowd at the Orpheum on Tuesday night that he wanted us to leave the theatre thinking, “That was sort of worth it.” I couldn’t put it any better myself.
Was it funny? At times. Was it horrible? Not at all. Was it celebrity worship gone amok? Certainly. But it was a spectacle.
Artistically, the best laughs came from the opener, Reggie Watts, who’s played the local comedy festival twice. I was jealous of those seeing him for the first time. That moment of slack-jawed wonder as you try to figure out the disturbed musical genius is something you never forget.
But the evening was not about Watts. Coco love was in the air, as it has been since O’Brien was dumped from The Tonight Show after less than a year due to a huge slippage in ratings. His band of 17 years, minus drummer Max Weinberg, set the tone by doing some jump-and-jive music in the aisles, highlighted by trumpeter Mark Pender’s circular breathing trick, in which he holds a note for ages while the band urges him on and the crowd goes wild. And the show begins.
O’Brien can be a grating interviewer by always imposing himself, but he was free of that duty. What he’s always excelled at is his video segments, and our first look at him came on screen. We saw him one month ago, fat and with a long beard, lying among pizza boxes and beer bottles, answering the phone with desperation, looking for any television job. A lost soul. Then the tour comes together, he gets to the gym, throws off his fat suit, and trims his beard. And the live version of O’Brien hit the stage to a standing O.
“I didn’t think you people made this much noise,” he said. “This is not the Canadian stereotype.” That was the start of the ingratiation process, in which local references were trotted out for cheap fan reaction. O’Brien’s new job, he joked, was as the assistant manager at the Roots on Robson Street. (“Come on by,” he said. “We’re having a special on tuques.”) He said the Olympic mascots could now be found in Pigeon Park looking strung out. Sidekick Andy Richter did two local fake commercials—for Japadog at the corner of Burrard and Smithe, and for the Penthouse (“for the next time your friend says ”˜I’m feeling more creepy than horny’ ”). And so on.
O’Brien always had the best late-night band since Doc Severinson left the airwaves, and the musical numbers stood out. What was a little surprising were Conan’s musical chops. He plays the fool, but the guy’s got some talent. The best was a low-down blues with backup singers, the Coquettes, about growing up in Brookline, Massachusetts, where his daddy had a good job and they shopped at Whole Foods.
Too often bits were trotted out for the recognition factor alone, becoming nothing more than ironic gimmicks that went nowhere. The already pointless Masturbating Bear was morphed into the Self-Pleasuring Panda and then ushered offstage; at one point, Conan sported the tight-leather purple-paisley suit that Eddie Murphy supposedly wore in Raw, but for no real reason except perhaps to show off his flat ass; and an “intimate” conversation with the audience en masse, where the crowd read their lines off a screen, was a good idea that fizzled out when Conan licked trombonist Richie “LaBamba” Rosenberg’s face.
But who cares? Comedy was just a byproduct for this love-in. It was Entertainment with a capital E. Conan’s rule has always been to keep it loud and keep it moving. The audience was grateful just sharing the same airspace.