The Bobs, now based in Seattle, celebrate their 30 years as a wackily offbeat a cappella "band" with a show at the Triple Door on Aug. 26.
In recent years, Bay Area a cappella comedians the Bobs have turned up at the Moisture Festival for three- or four-song sets on a surprisingly regular basis.
Which had me thinking: “Gee, the festival must be doing unusually well to have such a generous travel budget. Either that, or the Bobs love the Moisture Festival so much they pay their own airfare here.”
It turns out that ever since chief songwriter/arranger Richard Bob Greene moved here in 2008, the Bobs have been a Seattle-based band, with three out of four members living here.
“Band” is the operative word. Between their mouth-percussion prowess, microphone trickery and unusual vocal talents, the Bobs never just sound like four people singing. And even when you’re sure you’ve caught them veering from their a cappella track, things aren’t what they appear.
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Take, for instance, their cover of Spike Jones’ “I Was a Teenage Brain Surgeon” (on their 2005 CD, “Rhapsody in Bob”). It features what surely has to be a theremin playing in the background.
Nope, said Greene in a recent interview at his bungalow near Fremont. That’s actually Dan Bob Schumacher.
“Singing like a theremin, I guess,” Greene chuckles. “Dan is, in the best sense of the word, a freak of nature.”
Greene, Schumacher, Matthew Bob Stull and Angie Bob Doctor celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary with a retrospective show at the Triple Door on Sunday.
In the last three decades, there’s been a fair amount of turnover in the band. Doctor, the latest to join the group, has collaborated with John Zorn, Meredith Monk, Bobby McFerrin and conductor Kent Nagano (performing in Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass”). That’s impressive company.
So what drew her to the Bobs, after longtime female singer Amy Engelhardt left the group?
“Well, I love a challenge,” Doctor says in an email interview (she still lives in California). “Singing with The Bobs is so completely different from all the other projects I’ve done. I come from that small-jazz-group, tight-harmony, vocalese world … generally quite serious music. What I’ve always loved about The Bobs is how creative the original music is, and how much fun it is to be an audience member.”
Being in the Bobs takes her out of her comfort zone “in good ways,” she adds. “The sounds I need to make to be ‘instrumental’ might be anything from a drum sound to a monkey screech.”
The latter comes in handy in “Banana Love,” the first Bobs tune she was given to learn: “I think it’s Matthew’s personal mission to deconstruct my musical background.”
Doctor and Schumacher will be the evening’s opening act, with tunes from their jazzy 2011 CD, “He Said, She Said: Duets for Two Voices,” produced and arranged by Greene. The album’s eclectic song lineup includes two Kern-Hammerstein covers, a terrific take on Joe Jackson’s “Breaking Us in Two” and a zanily Bobs-esque treatment of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”
Doctor says she and Schumacher had met and heard each other sing previously, but never worked together until “He Said, She Said.”
“Now that I’m a Bob, we incorporate duets into our sets,” she says. “They are still some of the hardest arrangements we each have sung, but it’s a blast.”
The Bobs’ most recent CD, “Get Your Monkey off My Dog,” is one of their strongest yet: a wacky blend of virtuosic vocal technique and demented humor. Take the title tune, written by Greene. It was inspired, he says, by seeing someone’s pet monkey chasing a much larger Labrador retriever in a Brooklyn park.
“I’m firmly convinced that anything is fair fodder for a song,” Greene says. (Sample anti-monkey lyrics: “Get a parrot or a ferret, if you gotta come and share it.”)
Sunday’s concert, Greene notes, will be “representative of every iteration of the Bobs” and will include new material from a CD of “nonliteral biographies” that’s in the works. One number on it, sung from the point-of-view of Fidel Castro, suggests “that the thing that defines a successful long-term dictator is what they wear.”
Greene guarantees that the show will be unpredictable. Also, he says after a short pause, he’ll be wearing “a lovely new suit.”
“These are important facts!” he intones. “What more do you need to know?”
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org