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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Village People at the Crystal Ballroom, Sat Nov 30

Posted by Morgan Troper on Wed, Dec 4, 2013 at 10:06 AM

The author with the Village People at Saturday nights show.
  • The author with the Village People at Saturday night's show.
There's a strong possibility that the Village People are the most peculiar boy band ever conceived. The group was assembled by two French producers and composers in 1977, Jacques Morali and Henry Belolo, in a deliberate and calculating attempt to create a group who would cater specifically to gay disco fans. Here's what's extraordinary about the Village People: On one hand, the one-dimensional and partially offensive "gay fantasy" cultural stereotypes and tacit homoeroticism are what define the group. On the other hand, songs like "In The Navy" and "Y.M.C.A." are wholesome American hymns, fixtures of weddings (between all sexes!) and bar mitzvahs and things like that. If there's a gay subtext—and there undeniably is—plenty of people apparently ignore it.

This was reflected by the audience at Saturday's show. Wait—let me back up here before I go any further. Yes, I saw the Village People. Live. In 2013. Or, at least, what remains of the "classic" lineup—that is, Alex Filey ("The G.I.), Felipe Rose ("The Indian"), and, while technically not a founding member, arguably the most identifiable member of the band (and even that might be a stretch), lead singer Ray Simpson ("The Cop"). The basically faceless "Biker," "Construction Worker," and "Cowboy" personae are all replacement members—and they all look like they could be in their early 30s. The relatively scant audience was, ostensibly, far more conservative than I had expected. There were a few dressed up as their favorite Village Person, most likely with ironic intent, and at least a handful of noxious disco revivalists, but mostly the crowd consisted of normal people, dressed down, dancing along geometrically and singing along tunelessly. It was about as gay as an Elton John concert, which is to say it wasn't really gay at all.

As soon as the group took the stage, I began feverishly sending text messages to friends, telling them I was at the strangest show of my life. In hindsight, this might have been a hyperbolic assessment, but it certainly ranks within the top five. The stage consisted of six microphones and mic stands, and that's it. No live instrumentation. This was essentially karaoke. The nonexistent musicianship was made particularly jarring when juxtaposed with local opener, Euro-wannabe weirdos Ancient Heat, whose members were constantly trading instruments throughout their set.

A few songs in, Simpson announced that the Village People have a new record that was co-written by Harry Wayne Casey of KC and the Sunshine Band. It was news that inspired barely any applause, but to me this was revelatory information—this isn't merely a reunion tour? The Village People actually intend to record and release new music? After a terse 50-minute set—which I suppose accounts for approximately every hit the band ever released, excluding "Y.M.C.A."—the group walked off-stage. Less than a minute went by before the band took the stage again, with the inevitable encore ("Y.M.C.A.) disguised as an opportunity for requests. "Now's the time to request a song we didn't play that maybe you had hoped to hear," Simpson told the audience. Everyone in the crowd (again, predictably) shouted "Y.M.C.A.!" in hysterical tandem, much to the band's feigned surprise. And then they played "Y.M.C.A." And then that was it. Lights came on, the fucking Village People walked off stage, and the crowd dispersed. They weren't even selling any merch. I looked.

The Village People at the Crystal Ballroom seems weird on paper, and it was as weird in person. I'm still having a difficult time gauging the group's current fanbase. It's true that the Village People have sold millions of records, and that their several hits are as affixed to the popular subconsciousness as the stereotypes each member personifies. But the Village People aren't like Abba, who were, on the surface, plastic disco but fundamentally tortured purveyors of timeless pop genius. Nor are they a band like the Bee Gees, who compromised their more ambitious art-pop predilections merely to score hits in the disco market. The Village People are wholly synthetic and permanently confined to a bygone era. They had hits; they had an immensely appealing aesthetic, but that's sort of where it ends. It would be like going to see 5ive reunite at the Crystal Ballroom 30 years from now. It's almost too bizarre to be funny.

Almost.

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