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Neil Innes at the Egyptian 6/27/08

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(Written with Bob Thompson)

It was an intimate night of music and comedy as Neil Innes entertained an enthralled crowd in The Egyptian Theater on Friday night, the second of a two-night Innes-Fest at the Mods and Rockers Film Festival.

It was more like hanging out in the local pub than attending a rock concert. Switching from guitar to keyboard to ukelele to something resembling a zither, Innes kept stressing it was an "interactive" night, inviting friends like animator and webmaster Bonnie Rose and Emo Philips up on stage to accompany him. Ken Simpson and "Rutling Ken" Thornton, a pair of guitarists from the Midwest, made especially strong contributions, Thornton adding Harrison-esque leads to several of the most moving songs. Innes often relied upon the audience to provide background vocals, and the theater turned into one big, happy sing-along. Imagine being part of a huge theater crowd hollering along to songs like "Jollity Farm" and "The Bruces' Philosophers Song".

The show opened with a "medley of hit", the Bonzo Dog Band's "Urban Spaceman", a big single in 1968 England, and heard by Yanks in Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl fourteen years later. Innes then ran through a number of Monty Python, Bonzo Dog Band, Rutles and solo songs with a good mix of the popular and the obscure.

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While Innes famously employs the dreaded mix of music and comedy, his schtick is quite different from the numerous guitar-wielding comics we've been seeing lately. Innes' tunes are finely crafted, never just set-ups to a punch line. Even at his most pointedly parodic - jabbing Dylan with "Protest Song", sampling the Beach Boys doo-wopping on his new keyboard or lampooning the Beatles in the Rutles segment - his songs are good enough to pass as those of his subjects. As insightful and subtle as Spinal Tap, Innes realizes that in satire, it's worth sacrificing a couple of easy laughs in order to set up the really big one.

His ultimate Lennon jab, "Cheese and Onions", loudly requested by a pre-teen in attendance, brought the house down. "I've got grandchildren now... and I ate them both," snarled Innes in response to the request, prowling the crowded stage, wondering what instrument to pick up next.

As could be expected, a lot of the folks in attendance were musicians, among them Joe Walsh and Jeff Lynne. Another successful evening ended at The Clubhouse where Seventh Python producer Brett Hudson and director Burt Kearns took over hosting duties.

I Must be in Love. Be forewarned, this song will stay in your head for the rest of the day.

A good old-fashioned sing-along. Yes, I said "Sophocles" instead of "Socrates". So shoot me. Or poison me with hemlock. It's only a shadow on the cave wall anyways. Wait...damn.