THE BONZO DOG DOO-DAH BAND: WRESTLE POODLES ...AND WIN! (2006)
1) Rule Britannia; 2) Hunting Tigers; 3) My Brother Makes The Noises; 4) Doorstep; 5) Little Sir Echo; 6) Ali Baba's Camel; 7) Falling In Love Again; 8) Watermelon; 9) Look Out, There's A Monster Coming; 10) Whispering; 11) By A Waterfall; 12) Sheik Of Araby; 13) Hello Mabel; 14) Jollity Farm; 15) The Equestrian Statue; 16) Cool Britannia; 17) We Are Normal; 18) The Strain; 19) The Sound Of Music; 20) Exodus; 21) The Trouser Press; 22) My Pink Half Of The Drainpipe; 23) I'm Bored; 24) Sport (The Odd Boy); 25) Mr. Apollo; 26) Humanoid Boogie; 27) Tent; 28) Can Blue Men Sing The Whites; 29) Look At Me, I'm Wonderful; 30) San Francisco; 31) Rhinocratic Oaths; 32) Mr. Slater's Parrot; 33) Monster Mash; 34) Urban Spaceman; 35) Canyons Of Your Mind.
There is nothing too surprising about a Bonzo Dog Band reunion — in fact, what is more surprising is that, since the band's ultimate breakup, they have only had one minor attempt at getting back together in thirty years (recording one «political» single in 1988). However, old age nostalgia, as well as increased popular interest in all things retro, eventually did its thing, and so, in early 2006, in order to celebrate the band's 40th anniversary, the «proper» reunion finally took place at the London Astoria — in the form of a sprawling celebratory show, a representative retrospective of all things that originally made The Bonzo Dog Band the real and uncontested champions of The Doo-Dah.
By this time, Stanshall was already deceased, making the reunion look a little like a Lennon-less posthumous Beatles show: no less than four different guest stars from the «alt-comedy» routine have been invited to fill in for the dead legend, with varying (but always incomplete) degrees of success. Original bass player Dennis Cowan was also no longer in this world; everybody else seems to be there, and trying to enjoy the whole thing as much as possible.
Although, apparently, there is a DVD version of this album, and much of the show was centered around theatrical comic performance, I am ever so slightly happy that I have not seen it — it makes much more sense to seek out old videos of their TV show instead, rather than watch the old geezers re-promote their legend in an age in which they so painfully do not belong (and the same goes for Monty Python, by the way, whose recurrent reunions compare quite pitifully to the original show). Just listening to whatever they're doing out there, though, almost completely erases the chronological context — and since they are doing it so well, Wrestle Poodles could almost pass for an original, old-school live album, minus the guest stars and the inevitable old crackle here and there in one of the singer's voices.
Indeed, these here are one hundred minutes of prime Bonzo stuff, delivered with all the authentic merriment, sarcasm, and energy as could and should be expected, and strung together with little staged vignettes and stage banter as one grand vaudevillian celebration. The setlist mostly consists of comic classics, going heavier on Gorilla/Tadpoles-style material than on the more experimental stuff, for obvious reasons (to please the audience, and also because much of that original tape-splicing experimentation would be hard, and useless, to reproduce on stage) — but since they play all their super-melodic ditties like ʽEquestrian Statueʼ and ʽUrban Spacemanʼ, who'd want to complain?
Of all the guest stars, Stephen Fry probably does the best job, but that is because he is Stephen Fry, and unlike everybody else, he does not even try to be Viv Stanshall — he just gives a typically Fry take on a couple of tunes, most notably ʽRhinocratic Oathsʼ where the complex surrealist monolog is delivered without a single hitch or glitch. On the other hand, Ade Edmondson tries way too hard to emulate Stanshall's personality on ʽThe Strainʼ, and overcooks the toilet humor side of the song so much that... well, it stinks, frankly speaking; and Paul Merton, according to reports, had to recite the words to ʽMonster Mashʼ from cue cards — how un-Bonzo is that? Not to mention that he just doesn't seem to get into the mock-ghouly spirit of the song at all: if you are trying to perform something of that level of silliness, you can really only allow yourself to do it if you are willing to go all the way, otherwise it's just... silly. Or even stupid.
Still, despite these minor nitpickings, on the whole the show seems to have been a success. The audience, probably largely consisting of the band's 50-60-year old fans, plays along with everything that requires audience participation (such as the "hello! – hello!"'s of ʽMr. Slater's Parrotʼ, or the "do you like soul music? — NO!!!!" bit on ʽTrouser Pressʼ), the musical side is faithfully and loyally well-rehearsed, and ultimately, it is just a cool thing to have so much of the Bonzos' comic greatness stuffed together in one such lovingly prepared package. A thumbs up, then, although, unlike the original albums, this one's value will probably fizzle out together with the passing of the Bonzos' last original fan.