Vocal Group, 'Body Musician' Don't Need Instruments

January 16, 1991|By Michael R. Driscoll | Michael R. Driscoll,Staff writer

If I were a musician of the instrumental stripe, last Friday's concert by Keith Terry and the a cappella singing group, The Bobs, might not cause me to find another line of work -- but I'd definitely be very nervous.

Terry, a self-described "body musician," relies on his own physique plus whatever he seems to find along the way.

The Bobs pull a wonderful melange of harmonies, backbeats and other rhythms right out of their own mouths.

Together, they gave a marvelous concert to a full house.

With all respect to the wonders of the synthesizer, the amplifier and other tools of the trade, there is an obvious need for performers who can make it happen by raw talent alone. Both Terry and The Bobs, comprised of Gunnar "Bob" Madsen, Janie "Bob" Scott, Matthew "Bob" Stull, Richard "Bob" Greene and Roger "Bob" Freelander, definitely qualify in the talent category.

Terry opened the show with his unique brand of abstract music.

He moved quickly onto a nearly empty stage occupied only by such assorted knickknacks as a kettle drum, a sheet of plastic wrap and a short, wooden picket fence.

Seizing the audience's attention with a quick bit of physical "scat," he tapped, hissed, coughed and clapped his hands, sounding almost like an extended drum solo. It was a fascinating, compelling display.

The rest of his set reflected what at first seemed random, but it was really an energetic and superbly choreographed demonstration.

Terry has an interesting view of the world that turns ordinary items like toys and bits of wood -- or his own body -- into a musical combo.

For the time being, he's probably better off preceding the headliners, at least until the public is better educated as to what he's trying to do. It's hard to describe what Terry does, because what he does seems to be both old and new.

Even a generic term like "world beat," doesn't do him justice. Maybe "performanceartist" is the name that comes closest, because I've never seen anyone tie that term down, either.

The Bobs were much easier to define. Their repertoire includes their own work, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and the like, and is supplemented by their own brand of intelligent,gently off-the-wall humor.

Their version of the Johnny Cash hit "Ring of Fire" inspired a group speculation on the similarity of Cash's voice to the late talking horse, Mr. Ed, which made a skewed sort of sense. After all, they were never seen together. Maybe they were one and the same.

But the singing is the centerpiece of any performance by The Bobs. These excellent musicians use their voices instead of instruments to weave their wonderful harmonies.

Of course, they also seem to know how to work a room. At one point, they got the audience to join them in singing "Happy Birthday" to a member of the group.

Toward the end of the evening, The Bobs took a riff from "Never On Sunday," and transmuted it into "Take The A Train." It was that and other songs, such as original works like "Cowboy Lips" and "Angels of Mercy," that had the audience clapping their hands, howling like dogs or tapping their feet like a convention of body musicians.

It's probably just as well that there aren't too many a cappella groups like The Bobs, or experimenters like Keith Terry out on tour. Otherwise, the future of instrumental music would be about as rosy as a new Frederick's of Hollywood franchise in Tehran.

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