It almost looked like it could've been a Latino Artists Pride celebration on Woodward Avenue, near Park, on Saturday night. Not only were Cheech & Chong performing two shows at the Fillmore but comedian George Lopez was appearing almost next door at the Fox Theater ("But he's not funny," said one of the folks in line for the early C&C show in regards to Mr. Lopez). And right around the corner, at the Park Bar, Detroit legend-in-the-making Rodriguez was playing his first Motor City show in many years.
Whatever the case regarding the merits of Lopez's humor, Cheech & Chong were plenty funny Saturday night, although some patrons were complaining that the show was too short, especially considering the wealth of material from which the comedy team had to choose. There was also some bitching from a few folks on the People Mover later that night about the absence of "Dave's not here" (which, ironically, was on the back of the T-shirts at the merchandise table).
Nevertheless, it was gratifying to see how young the audience was for the show, proving that C&C still have an appeal that crosses generations. "Fuck Bush!" Shelby Chong, Tommy Chong's comely wife, said early in her set while opening the show -- and she set up a theme that would come up often during the concert. Replace "Bush" with "Nixon," though, and a lot of the material would have been just as effective in the '70s. The duo trotted out many of their old characters -- Cheech's Alice Bowie ("Earache My Eye") and Chong's Blind Melon Chitlin' ("Quit clappin!" he told an eager beat keeper in the front row as he played his blues song. "You're fucking me up!") were especially effective. No "Basketball Jones," though.
I have to admit that they probably weren't as hilarious as they were at Pine Knob in '73 or '74, I forget which. The difference then, however, was that they hadn't made any of those movies yet; all we knew were their voices from the discs... so it was all still new and exciting. Also, at Pine Knob, it's safe to say that nine out of 10 audience members were smoking reefer throughout the show. Times have changed, although some of it can partially be attributed to the recent anti-smoking in public building laws. As Shelby Chong asked during her set: "Did you get high at home or in your car tonight before coming to the show?"
The "fuck Bush" comment was addressed at the administration for putting Tommy Chong in jail for nine months after he was "busted" for selling a bong. After recalling how he'd "played the Fox Theater next door as part of the Motown Revue before many of you were born," Chong mentioned how useless his bust had been to the government in the long run. "They were trying to stop people from smoking pot," he said, "because they assumed if you don't have a pipe, you can't smoke. Well, when you've got a bud without a pipe, you turn into McGyver real fast!" ("It's a good thing we didn't bring so-and-so to this show," said the couple next to me during the umpteenth John McCain razzing, this one during the classic "Ralph & Fido" routine, which featured C&C down on all fours impersonating our canine friends. Which led me to believe that their friend must be a McCain supporter...and, thus, as clueless as the stoner in the "Dave's not here" routine...)
The sold-out Rodriguez also attracted a relatively young crowd of hipsters -- and it was great to finally see the dude whose album has been wowing me for weeks now in the flesh. I've been told the 66-year-old singer-songwriter isn't big on rehearsing... and that was sometimes evident from several song endings that just seemed to peter out as opposed to climax. One of the band members even admitted to Doug Coombe that he had to play two or three songs that he was totally unfamiliar with when they took the stage. But Detroit rock renaissance man Matthew Smith added fine guitar lines to the songs, giving a fresh feel to many of them, throughout the show. And it truly was nice to finally see the artist in person... just to be sure that he actually does exist. So even if it wasn't a totally life-changing performance, there's still no denying those Rodriguez songs. Brilliant stuff. I simply can't say it enough. Hopefully, the dude won't wait another couple of decades to play live in town again. "Do you want to know the secret to life?" the enigmatic, perpetually grinning performer -- who could pass as a twin of ? of the Mysterians -- asked midway through his set. "You breathe in. Then you breathe out. In and out." Pretty good advice when you stop to think about it. Speaking of which, Dave's not here...
Rodriguez: Brilliant stuff
(l-r) Jim Diamond, Matthew Smith, Rodriguez, Dave Shettler and Bobby Emmett
MT PHOTOS: DOUG COOMBE