Like many nights, last night began in a reputable lair of capitalist decadence. Together with my girlfriend and another couple, sitting at Barbette in Uptown, gorging on gastronomy, adhering to gastronomic protocol by bitching about said gastronomy. I mean, three squash flowers for fifteen bucks? My friend agreed. “Yeah, they should have called it quinoa with tempura squash flowers—not the other way around.” He caught the waitress’s attention. “Excuse me, could we get the check?” She came over. “Sorry, we’re kind of in a hurry. We’re going to a rock opera.”
Rock opera. It’s a pretentious term, sure, but it’s the fun kind of pretentiousness. It’s not like real opera. But it sounds just a touch more important than a rock concert. It’s the kind of fun pretentious you feel compelled to share with your waitress. We were going to Idigaragua, the rock opera Fort Wilson Riot is putting on at the Bedlam Theatre on the West Bank.
The West Bank: the home of college-age kids who dress like post-globalist hobos. These kids are fun pretentious too—the fun pretension of youth hopeful enough to make harsh criticisms that go beyond complaints about the number of squash flowers on a plate. And because of all these fun pretentious kids in such a fun pretentious place, the Bedlam has become the home of a fun pretentious movement. It’s the home base for bands like the Blackthorns and Fort Wilson Riot; skinny young people affecting Tom Waits poses, singing in veiled metaphors about unsustainable industry.
So Idigaragua is fun pretentious, but it’s also great. Fort Wilson Riot is a fun pretentious band with a terrifying amount of talent. But before Idigaragua, they reminded me of Trip Shakespeare—talented, but a little too fascinated with camp. Here, they take Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief and marry it to Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria on the West Bank of the Mississippi. Sitting there, in the dark Bedlam, watching the young actors dancing, lip-synching to the band playing on a stage behind them, manipulating gigantic puppet birds of prey and pulling down a disposable screen playing a psychedelic video montage featuring chickens being de-beaked—well, it’s bewildering. You’re not exactly sure what’s happening, but it’s impressive. You will buy Idigaragua the album when you leave Idigaragua the rock opera. You will listen to Idigaragua in the privacy of your own home and it will make more sense there.
Let me just give you one piece of advice anyway: show up early, and read the libretta before the rock opera begins. Otherwise, you might not be able to follow this story about a journalist drunk in a strange bar in a strange land, who sells his soul to a band of hipster pirates, builds first a family and then a modern civilization, is abandoned in the desert before ending up in another strange bar in a strange land toasting a giant demon cowboy . . . you might be able to follow it, you might be able to absorb some of the anti-imperialist themes, but it might just come off like hippies mangling Brecht; a co-ed freakout with dancing cacti and wolf-women in gas masks.
So read the libretta first. It’s just good form at a rock opera.
Idigaragua runs through September 16 at Bedlam Theatre.