Patches and Gretchen debuted their live audience variety show, Headquarters and Dimes, at the Loring Theater Saturday, September 3. Previously, this show was available as a web cast or as a stripped down version at CK Food and Fuel.
While the CK Food and Fuel version was more of an open mic hootenanny, Saturday’s show at the Loring was reminiscent of decades past when musicians, like Sonny and Cher or Barbara Mandrell, often had televised variety shows featuring slapstick comedy and special guests. This Loring version was even part Muppet Show with Keystone Cops, played by David Eagle and Adam Levy, providing commentary, Waldorf and Statler style, while they pushed acts off the stage.
Headquarters and Dimes was divided into two acts. Act One began with drummer Tommy Tousey as the leader of a jailhouse band. He directed musicians to their places and dragged a reluctant Gretchen Seichrist onstage to sing the title song, “Headquarters and Dimes.”
Following the audience’s introduction to the main cast of characters, the stage evolves quickly as props are whisked around the stage. The self effacing skits squeezed in between the music related to relationships, being a musician, or how the band prepared for the show. This debut show also celebrated the release of I Steal Carrots and Blue Skin. In essence, Saturday’s show used comedy to recount the trials of Seichrist’s journey from wanting to be an artist, recording an album, and her work culminating into a live theatrical showing of Headquarters and Dimes.
As with all variety shows, the musical guests are the relish on top of an already great dish. Local musician and writer Dylan Hicks joined the band on keys. Scarlet Rivera, who recorded with Patches and Gretchen, made a special trip from LA to delight the audience with her violin. Many will recognize Rivera from her work with Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, and others.
Mexica Yolotl enchanted the audience in Act One with three traditional Aztec dances. Dressed in feathers, beads, and bright costuming, the group explained the meaning of their dances and kept perfect rhythm with one off stage drummer. Mexica Yolotl gave credibility to Headquarters and Dimes with a glimpse at the type of high quality entertainment to which Seichrist and company have access.
Some skits were meant to detract from set design changes. One memorable space filling skit involved Arne Fogel and Barry Thomas Goldberg breaking into a heated argument in the audience.
“Take off your hat,” Goldberg screams at Fogel.
Fogel refuses. Goldberg, after all, is wearing a hat, too.
“But I’m not sitting behind me, I’m sitting behind you,” Goldberg retorts.
The two are eventually kicked out of the theater by the cops and music continues onstage.
Act Two featured just as many skits and musical numbers, but was rightfully edited by the troupe to make it about an hour shorter than the first set.
The group improvised well. For example, one skit involving an airplane was deemed to have awkward seating, so Seichrist directed everyone to turn their chairs in sync to face the audience.
“The plane is making a turn,” she announces.
The plane skit took the cast to Macon, GA, where they were waiting for the mysterious Brad so they could record at The Hummingbird.
After a few songs about Macon, local man-about-town John “Caveman” Knowles perfectly broke up the supplicating humor with his impish “Little Jimmy Must Die.” This Southern Gothic song about small town secrets was choreographed perfectly to follow the Macon scenes. The Keystone Cops, who had been subtly editorializing between numbers, were now taking bold action and humorously wrestling Caveman off stage as he continued to wail and try to run for the mic again and again.
Later in the show and providing a contrast to physical comedy, Arne Fogel conducted a dry interview with Barry Thomas Goldberg which ended with a quick exchange of barbs.
“Do you work for Fox News? What kind of questions are these anyway?” asks Goldberg
Try as they might, however, the Fogel-Goldberg banter did not meet the previous levels of indecency (except for their own principles) and they were left begging to be taken away by the cops.
The final musical guest of the evening was The Star Folk with their serene chamber pop sounds. They were not the apologetic Patches and Gretchen, the defiant Caveman, or show stoppers like Mexica Yolotl. The Star Folk were safe closers, just right to seal the deal with the audience while still sharing a tight mix of cello, guitar, and drums. No need to shepard hook these guys, even the Keystone Cops could sit back and enjoy the music while munching on the “cherry blossom” popcorn balls that were distributed throughout the audience.
Patches and Gretchen incorporated a good mix of highlights and comedy to break up their own tendencies to be reluctant stars. The band admitted that while they worked hard, the show was still unpolished. If this were a taping of a show which could be edited, that would not be a problem. If the band plans on continuing these live events, downtime needs to be minimized and the acts need to be condensed without losing the diversity of this debut show.
It will be interesting to see where Patches and Gretchen go with Headquarters and Dimes. Variety shows like this could cultivate a new generation of creativity. The hardworking Gretchen Seichrist may be just the person to reignite a new trend.