Dancing on the Edge in the Buttrock Suites

At some point in my late teens, I developed an odd fondness for doing interpretive dances to my favorite heavy metal albums (please, hold your laughter until the end of this paragraph, if you can). My retrospective analysis is that I had simply spent too many years earnestly rocking out, seriously shouting at the devil with my fist aloft and righteous rebelliousness crackling through my leather-clad frame.

Given that embarrassing adolescent anecdote, it's no surprise that I love the Buttrock Suites. Local dancers and choreographers Diana Cardiff, Bob Gregory, Jana Hill, Pam Gregory, and Matt Mulkerin (identified collectively as the Spandex 5) have conceived and executed three wildly entertaining productions based around modern dance pieces set to pop-metal and hard-rock songs byappropriate artists such as Ozzy Osbourne, the Scorpions, Def Leppard, and Van Halen. Last weekend, I dropped in on rehearsals at Neumo's for their newest show, Buttrock Suites...LIVE! The general concept is the same, but instead of lip-syncing along to taped backing tracks as they have in previous productions, Cardiff and company will now be backed by a live band. The glittery motley crew features many of the players from the last local production of cult rock opera Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with whom the dancers had performed this past New Year's Eve at the Crocodile.

"It was time for the show to evolve," says Cardiff, adjusting her spiky blonde wig while we chat in between numbers. "It has been appreciated by theater and dance audiences as well as a rock-'n'-roll-music-loving audience, so we thought it would make sense to bring it to the clubs," she explains. Cardiff also credits "ruthless pressuring" from drummer John Hollis Fleischman and bassist Steve Newton as a key factor in bringing the live production to fruition. This incarnation includes the strongest pieces from earlier Buttrock productions, as well as guest appearances by powerhouse vocalists Nick Garrison (singing Lita Ford's "Kiss Me Deadly") and Sarah Rudinoff (belting out Judas Priest's "Living After Midnight"). Among the newer numbers I was lucky enough to witness was an inspired showdown between Iron Man and Godzilla (set to the relevant songs by Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult) and a hilariously twisted version of Journey's "Open Arms," with dancer Sara Jinks wriggling and weaving her way through the classic power ballad while wrapped securely in a straightjacket. This is a one-night-only event (Saturday, Feb. 24, at Neumo's), and given the show's history of selling out, I strongly recommend picking up advance tickets through TicketsWest.

Speaking of Neumo's, co-owner Steven Severin was kind enough to give me a tour of their remodel-in-progress last week. The former Juju Lounge has been gutted to reveal the ruggedly elegant exposed brick walls beneath and will be reconfigured to create a more annexed, relaxed ambience and feel less like an unofficial thoroughfare to the main showroom (though access to the showroom will be available via one side door). Severin and his partners have rechristened the space Moe Bar and hope to have it open sometime in early spring.

In markedly sadder news, the tightly knit Bellingham music community suffered a big blow last week when news of local musician Phil Mayben's death began surfacing on local message boards. The former drummer for BOAT, the Treasures, and Par Corlis reportedly died of a drug overdose, but an official autopsy was not available at press time. In a statement on BOAT's Web site, guitarist Josh Goodman said: "I think I can safely speak for [bandmates] Dave [Crane] and Mark [McKenzie] that we were privileged and honored to have known Phil and to have had the chance to engage in making music with him. He pushed us musically and took BOAT to a new depth of creativity. BOAT will continue to make records and perform our music, though we are not exactly sure what the immediate future will look like." A memorial service for Mayben is scheduled for the afternoon of Saturday, March 3, at the Rose Chapel in G.A.F. Church (1311 I St. in Bellingham).


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