by Blair Stiles
Charlie Brumley (of the Educated Guess) and Chris Phillips of (Bear Hive) move through Memorial Presbyterian Church as though eyes are on them. "I can't walk through his hallway by myself," says Phillips, as he checks behind and around Brumley and himself.
"It seems like it is haunted, but I've worked here until one in the morning, and I guarantee it's just old pipes and a loud heating system," explains Brumley, who cleans the church located on Skinker Boulevard for an hourly wage and for a free practice space for the second coming of his space rock opera, Chrono Man.
Above us, the "pipes" emit a loud groan that sounds less than auspicious. "I don't know, man. I've seen too many horror films to believe that's bad plumbing," Phillips counters. But Brumley insists, "I wouldn't get too scared. It took some time, but I got used to how freaky this place is at night." Brumley and Phillips have a height difference of a solid six or eight inches. They look like chess pieces, intended for different uses, but able to play the same game. Their rapport is that of two people who have grown comfortable in their bodies. Prior to Chrono Man, Brumley and Phillips knew little of each other. In the wake of months of preparation and that initial performance, they now ooze the appeal given off by good friends. The collaboration makes sense.
We find our seats in a room at the end of the very long, window-lined hallway. The noises still seep through the walls, but Brumley and Phillips are fresh out of Chrono Man" target="_blank">Chrono Man practice, and they're ready to explain why they chose to perform an encore of their successful rock opera.
"From the get-go I really only wanted to do one performance. Bu, because of the feedback and because of the amount of people that we were all hearing that wanted to see it, it absolutely felt worthwhile to do an encore performance," begins Brumley. He sinks lower into his chair and looks tuckered out as he pushes his spectacles back onto the bridge of his nose. "It seems like people absolutely appreciate musicians going for it. The big, crazy idea -- and trying it out. We just wanted to do something over the top and fun. Everyone just poured themselves into it. And people appreciate that so much work and effort went into something for people to enjoy."
The first Chrono Man performance was put on for a nearly sold-out crowd at Off Broadway this past June. "The last rehearsal we kept asking, 'Is it going to work? Are people going to show? If people do show up, are they going to care?'" recalls Phillips, who seems more at ease without the presence of ghoulish echoes. "And then being upstairs and getting the jitters before the show and hearing the energy and feeling the rumble of the crowd...then Eric [Peters] comes in and screams, 'AHHHHH! IT'S FUCKING PACKED!' It was like, 'OK, man, let's do this.' Then the lights went down."
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The first Chrono Man performance was a spectacle. Volcanoes' Eric Peters and Jon Ryan played deliberate renditions of Brumley's Chrono Man score. They jutted from new wave to hardcore arrangements as Phillips bellowed a sonorous vocal performance -- an impressive feat for a man decked out in spandex and chunky gold armor. There were Sexy Robot dancers to interpret the story of a man woken from a thousand-year sleep. His slumber was interrupted by the dire need to vanquish the Scientist, played by Nee's Kristin Dennis, whose sole goal was to snuff out the eternal joy of music. The trombone choir sounded the alarm.
Dots Not Feathers' Jessica Haley, Katie Brooking and Stephen Baier belted with Phillips, ready to stand by his side in the fight against the Scientist. "Afterwards, I was still reeling," Phillips begins. "Anytime I think about it, it hits a super warm spot. Afterwards, getting changed and taking my time and thinking, 'OK, everyone has forgotten about it and everyone is just partying.' Then I walk outside to smoke a cigarette and 95 people just start screaming, 'CHRONOMAN! CHRONOMAN!' People gave me drinks and hugs."
Brumley begins to squirm and his lips press into a tight smile as he listens to Phillips, and adds, "I have never been in any musical experience like that. Even the Under Cover Weekend shows, which are pretty rowdy, not even close. It was completely overwhelming." He continues, "My whole thing was, let's just make it good and feel good about it and then it wouldn't really matter. That's kind of how I feel about this performance. As long as it sounds good and we play our best, regardless of how many are in attendance. I just want it to be good for the people that are there."
For those who attend the encore performance, expect several changes. "We have added one dancer. We added five singers: Ryan Myers, Nick Beary, Ashley Jemes, Hope Goodin and David Robert Wright. That was the one thing that felt lacking the last time. The chorus didn't feel big. I really wanted an operatic chorus this time," Brumley says. During rehearsal, the addition of the five singers is palpable. "We are adding a lighting show. Will Godfred, who does the light show for Nee, will be doing lights for us. We're enhancing the sound and enhancing the visuals from the first time around. It's planned this time around."
Both Brumley and Phillips hope Chrono Man inspires other local musicians to explore their performance options. "It's easy for bands to fall into some kind of conventional form. What attracted me to this, not only because a lot of us were brought up in theater, and doing Chrono Man is a way to revisit that, is for people to say, 'Let's try a mixed media,'" Phillips starts. Chrono Man incorporates theater, music, dance, stage production and costume design. "It's so easy in this city to say, 'OK, we're a band, let's play shows.' I think that is really important, but I also think it is really interesting to say, 'All right, let's try something completely different, maybe take a risk. Get out of comfort zones and see where it goes.' This is just a really crazy example of that, where it all came together and worked so well. I hope other people find ways to combine other art forms. It should inspire people. We can all talk about St. Louis and what it means to make music here and what it should be doing...never mind all that. Do it."
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As we wrap, Brumley and Phillips begin to exchange quips on the plausible future of Chrono Man. "For the time being, this is the last performance, for sure. It's one of those things where I don't want to say never again, but if there was a crazy great opportunity like the Flaming Lips wanted us to open up I would definitely have that conversation and see if people wanted to...or in ten years I'll write Chrono Man Two when we're all famous." Phillips, elevating the humor, adds, "And I'll show up and you'll be like, 'Oh, actually, this is the young hot dude who is playing Chrono Man.'" They both laugh as we find the church's exit. No poltergeists lead the way for Chrono Man. He is the savior of the universe, after all.
Chrono Man Lives: The Encore Performance of Chrono Man will power through the universe and land at Plush this Friday. Tickets are $10. Doors at 8. Absolutely will spin a polyphonic blend of globe-trotting bass music not unlike the tunes found on the feverishly danceable Mad Decent label sometime about 8:30 p.m. Chrono Man will once again do battle with the Scientist at 10 p.m.
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