SF Sketchfest Review: The Dave Hill Explosion w/ Dick Cavett and Gordon Gano at Cobb’s Comedy Club, 1/26/10

by Dakin Hardwick on January 27, 2010

Many reviewers, when they attend a show, tend to do a lot of research about the performers. They watch videos, read biographical information, and so forth. I don’t believe in this. I like to be surprised. I had no idea as to who Dave Hill was before tonight. I am not so oblivious as to not know who Dick Cavett is, nor Gordon Gano, but I didn’t know who the headliner was. Judging by the size of the crowd, neither did many of the attendees of Sketchfest. In fact, the balcony was closed and the main floor was only about half full. I went in (relatively) blindly. It was a good decision.

There was no opener tonight. No warm up at all. There were three chairs on stage, and a table with a single Odwalla Orange Juice and 3 cans of Coke. I liked the minimalism. Dave Hill came out wearing a suit with a paisley dress shirt, tie, and green converse with his name embroidered on them. He then proceeded to read a page from a “book he is working on.” It was the tale of an elephant named Osama Bin Laden. It was delightfully absurd and dry. His delivery was similar to Stephen Wright, only without the enthusiasm. I’d like to tell you the entire story, but I legally can’t. I will say that there was a lot of confusion concerning Babar and his relationship to real elephants, without directly mentioning Babar.

Anyhow, he did another dry bit about BART missing stops, which was adapted from a subway joke, since Hill is from New York. Then he went in to “The Dave Hill Explosion Theme Song,” which was sung in the same dry manner that as his jokes, but incorporated some fantastic spastic dancing, a little stripping, a few audience call outs that only confused the audience, and a couple of push-ups. He then played a few videos- one about birthdays and another about a liquor conference. Silly, but not as good as the live performance.

Then he introduced the guest, and the reason most people bought tickets, Mr. Dick Cavett. He was introduced as the only comedian to be mentioned in the Watergate Files. And, in true classic form as one of the greatest intellectuals of the 20th Century, as well as a any man born in 1936 does when they enter the room, he came out moonwalking. Well. Very well in fact. He then told some brief jokes before going in to full blown grandpa mode. He began discussing the history of the moonwalk, and how it was derived from mime. Well, it should have been Grandpa mode, but he was very engaging and extremely focused.

Cavett moved to the seats, and that’s when things got a little bit messy. Cavett was great, but Hill was a bit lacking as an interviewer. His schtick is feeling awkward and out of place, and that doesn’t make for a very engaging interviewer. He, instead, just let Cavett tell stories. Which, really, was the best thing. He talked about his relationship with Groucho Marx, who seems to be one of the smartest people ever. He also told tales about Bob Hope and even gave his stance on the Leno/O’Brien fiasco. (His answer to the question, being a former writer for both Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, was priceless. He said that both Jay and Conan are hard working men that deserve the best, and NBC put out a banner that said “Mission: Accomplished” a week ago.)

After a long stretch of story telling, Hill decided that it was time to bring out the musical guest. But Cavett stopped him. It seems that Cavett was aware that this was his show. It was time for a magic trick! He pulled out a rope, and did some pretty amazing things by cutting it up  and putting it back together. It was simple, but still blew my mind.

Then, we got our musical guest. Gordon Gano came out with a violin. I didn’t know that he was a violinist, and he made it pretty clear that few other people were aware, either. So, he started tuning his violin, then, instead of playing a song, he determined that it was time for a story. (CoCo supporters, please jump to the next paragraph.) He told a story about the Violent Femmes playing Late Night with Conan O’Brien.  They played their set, and then after the taping, Gano went to go grab a cab. While he was looking for a cab, he saw O’Brien sitting in a car. He then went over to say hello, and O’Brien responded with, “No Autographs.” He then rolled up his window, and drove off.

Gano then moved back to the microphone to play a new song, called “Hired Gun.” This was all vocals and violin. No guitar at all. He was in excellent voice, still sounding like the same bratty little kid that recorded “Blister In The Sun.”  There was a bit of Romeo & Juliet metaphor in the song, which prompted Gano and Cavett to do the “Bite My Thumb” bit. Very well, I might add. Both are fine actors. Hill perched at his desk, looking a bit bored by the event. I thought it was pretty ridiculous. I don’t think anyone would believe that these two people were doing Shakespeare at at comedy club in 2010.

After the next song in his short set, an old song that may have been called “I’m In Style” or “I’m Fashionable.” It was a song that he proclaimed to have not played in 25 years, and had never played it on violin before. He made it out to be totally unrehearsed, but I felt that it was pretty solidly performed.

The next piece that was performed was even more “special.” Gano brought Cavett up to the microphone to do a song written by Rudyard Kipling called “The Ladies.” This was not rehearsed. This wasn’t even discussed beforehand. Gano decided on the spot that he needed to do a song with Cavett. When it comes down to it, I don’t think I would turn down this chance, either. This song was quite long, and very amusing. He only sang five or six verses, and mentioned that there were numerous more. For a handful of more verses, you can read along here. This kind of helps you see the absurdity of the evening.

Gano & Cavett had some amazing chemistry, and I would love to see them work together more. I doubt a full scale tour could ever be in the works, but maybe a one of variety show, or a record, perhaps?

Gano closed out the musical portion of the evening  with a mind-melding rendition of “Blister In The Sun,” a song that, although I love it dearly, didn’t think could be made new again. But, as a solo violin work, in was reborn. He played a long intro, vaguely reminiscent of They Might Be Giants’ version of “Instanbul (Not Constantinople)”‘s intro, before kicking in to a reading of the song that I could compare to nothing else. It was still very recognizable, and people even clapped along at all of the proper parts, and by the end of the song, we were even singing along.

After Gano sat down, Hill tried to end the show, but Cavett decided otherwise. He pulled out a letter that Groucho Marx wrote to him, telling Cavett that he regrets not visiting him in San Francisco, but his stenographers legs were too distracting. Then, closed with this wonderful one-liner:

Did you ever realize that Peter O’Toole’s name has a double phallic?

Classic stuff. Hill pulled out an electric guitar and played a bit of Van Halen’s “Eruption” before kicking everyone off stage. It was great bit of old time entertainment that will probably never happen again. You missed it. I’m sorry. I don’t know what you had to do that was better than this, but I’m sure that you aren’t going to remember it tomorrow.

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