Cheech and Chong — The Wailers

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Cheech and Chong’s “Get it Legal” premier
January 16, 2010 – Macky Auditorium, Boulder, Co.
followed by
The Wailers
January 16, 2010 – Fox Theatre, Boulder, Co.

by Chibo Acevedo

Photos by Josh Elioseff

Editor’s note: Marquee Magazine has been saying that it’s embracing the recently out and open cannabis community in Colorado for a couple of months, but until now, no single evening has given us the chance to give a hearty thumbs up to our stoney brethren. So when we found out that Cheech and Chong were launching their comedic tour the very night that The Wailers were playing, just a short walk away at the Fox Theatre we knew we had to represent. So we rolled up our sleeves and a pile of joints and sent two of our men into the night to document what happens when stoner legends descend on the stoneiest of towns.

Cheech and Chong

Oh Lord, please forgive me for what I am about to do.

It is with great remorse that I have to lay down the truth of what occurred in this instance, but without the truth, what the hell is the point of a “review?”

Let it be known that Cheech and Chong are legends in this writer’s eyes. They released nine albums and eight feature films from 1972-1985. They won The Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album for their third release “Los Cochinos,” and were nominated on three other occasions. “Big Bambu,” their second album, was the biggest selling comedy album of all time in 1972 and remained so for years beyond. Their first feature film, the stoner masterpiece “Up in Smoke,” was the highest grossing comedy of 1978 topping $100 million – that’s in ’70s dollars, and when movie ticket prices were less than five bucks at the box office.

They inspired piss-your-pants laughter time and time again for many stoners around the globe, for me in particular, from the prepubescent years through the post-adolescent, and well into my adulthood. Shit, I still put on “Up in Smoke” from time to time, and it still makes me laugh. As well, “Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie” is another anytime giggle getter. I have listened to their stand-up comedy routines repeatedly and have guffawed right outta my chair onto the floor. Like I said, they’re weed legends.

When it came to my attention that their first tour in 25 years was premiering in Boulder, at The Macky Auditorium, I was like a six year old on Christmas Eve, excited with anticipation. Like the universal upset with The Beatles’ demise, I believe at least among the stoner culture, there was a great sadness when Cheech and Chong stopped working together back in the eighties. To think that the less than lucid super duo was gonna make another go of it was huge news to me. I very much enjoyed the thought of seeing them together live, and hoped there was a chance that they would be performing some new material. Better news even still when I came to find I would be reviewing the first performance of their tour. I could just picture all the scenarios that the aging counter culture freaks might traverse.

Stoner behavior is humorous almost in and of itself on any level, and we’ve yet to really get a peek into the over-sixty stoner perspective. “This shit is going to be fuckin’ funny.” I thought to myself. Which is why it is very difficult for me to tell you that what I witnessed was disappointing would be an understatement.

I can’t bare the thought of knocking my heroes so I will try and give a play by play with as much objectivity as I am able.

I got to my seat about ten minutes before the show started. It was a packed house. There was a vast array of folks, punks, hipsters, baby boomers, hippies … all kinds ranging from college-aged to over sixty.

The lights dim and this teeny little figure in a sexy white cocktail dress walks out on the stage, teeny but beautiful. At least beautiful from way back where I was sitting. Turns out, it’s Shelby Chong, Tommy Chong’s wife of more than 30 years. It made sense to me, since she’s been in more than a few of their movies, that she was introducing the guys. It was only later that I realized she was officially listed as the evening’s opening act.

She begins to talk and starts cracking jokes about pot. She’s actually pretty damn funny. She tells the story of how she and Tommy met in a grocery store when she was only 15 years old, and on acid. I paraphrase: “I was tripping really hard and remember meandering over into the produce section. I was looking at these cantaloupes, thinking “these would make great shoes.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw this black guy. “Dude. He’s gonna get busted.” I thought to myself. I go over to the cantaloupes that were cut in half. I take two halfs and stick my bare feet in them. Squish. It felt so good. I start to walk toward the door, and the man comes up to me. Was thinking he wanted my shoes. He grabs me. Apparently he was a security guard and was busting me. He asked me what I thought I was doing. I couldn’t really form sentences to answer any of his questions. I think he felt sorry for me because he thought I was retarded and instead of pressing charges or calling the cops, he just throws me out. I walk across the street and sit down and start eating my shoes. That’s when Tommy walks up to me and says to me “Hey can I have some of what you’re on?” I knew it was a match made in heaven.”

She went on for about another fifteen minutes with a crass humor we could all appreciate. Funny stuff. She so graciously shared with us that Tommy’s dick was “like a fine wine. You gotta smell it before you put it in your mouth.” Most memorable quote: “Martha Stewart is a pussy who looks like a dick.” Shelby Chong was funny, and not bad on the eyes either. After a 20- minute set, she wound up her schpeel and introduced the boys.

They came out to raging applause. It felt like two lifelong friends had just got back into town and walked into your kitchen. Shelby stayed out on stage and they had a sort of Q&A. I imagine it was to give people some insight to the fact that they both wanted to move on to different things when they parted. Tommy made a great joke, by saying “It was five years before I knew we broke up. I went to the next Cheech and Chong movie and I wasn’t in it. I thought we were just on vacation.”

Shelby acted as in
terviewer during this first bit. She talked about all the things Cheech has been doing over the years, and poked fun a little at Tommy for his lack of projects. It was fun banter, but obviously staged. After some of the banter, a fake argument ensued, Cheech feigned frustration and walked off the stage. Chong talked a little bit and said “I guess it wasn’t a good idea.” Lights go dim. Lights go up. Out walks Cheech.

They proceed to perform the “Dave’s not here” sketch.

“Knock, Knock. It’s me Dave. Open up I got the stuff!”

“Dave’s not here.” You know how it goes.

The sketch is moving right along and then, when Chong walked out for his part, he had to give Cheech his ear mic, but after Cheech puts the mic in his ear, it apparently isn’t turned on. There was uneasy laughter, but Chong made a joke about stoners not being able to figure out technology and they get back into the skit. It’s not as smooth as the record, but shit, it’s CHEECH and CHONG, man! The sketch ends. The lights dim to mild applause.

The lights go up. Shelby walks out to the mic and starts to talk. It’s not on. Then came the feedback blast that removed make-up on all the ladies in the first ten rows I’m sure. A more tangible sense that this performance was not really flowing washes over the audience.

Then Shelby starts asking if we all had a good Christmas. “Did you all get what you wanted?” she asked. No biggie. Only a rough segue way into the next bit. “Santa Clause and His Ol’ Lady.” Given the depth of their material, I thought it kind of a weird choice.

The fellas proceed to perform the sketch, each reminding the other of the lines in a way that some may not have noticed, but when one has viewed their performances as much as this writer, it was fairly obvious they weren’t really remembering things in sequence. Cheech’s typical thick Mexican accent wavered throughout. The lights dim, the skit ends to mild applause, and a deeper sense that this show was not going to be a life changing experience washed over us.

Lights go up. Cheech is introduced as some 30 year veteran college DJ “Harendo Revolver,” who works for CU. He comes out and cracks a few jokes about Boulder and college radio, met with not much laughter, then introduces “The Great Blind Mellon Chitlin.”

Chong is walked out by a stage hand and plays the character just as I remember, although the delivery was uneasy and a little speedy in comparison to other performances. The timing to let some of the humor digest just wasn’t there. The skit ends, the lights dim, and there is once again timid applause.

Lights go up. The rocking theme starts. It’s “Earache My Eye!” We are graced with the presence of “Alice Bowie” wearing the full pink tutu regalia. Just as their old performances the track was being played on the sound system to his air guitar dance. It brought great laughter for the first minute but, as the song went on, the dance felt tired. By the end of the song, when Cheech went off stage, we were again met with a moment of unsure laughter and applause. Lights dim.

I’m stoned outta my mind and not really laughing. Wondering what the fuck is going on? Lights go up.

Chong is introduced as some blues character and walks out wearing a loud blue blazer, toting a guitar. He gets out and starts talking about weed to much applause. Says he’s gonna play his new song “Get it Legal.” He gives the signal for the drum track to start. It does, and he starts playing. As he starts singing, he stops and says the drum track wasn’t cued right. “Let me just do it by myself.” he says. He starts singing a little bit of the song … maybe half a verse, and then says he can’t remember the words. Due to the already shaky foundation of the performance, I’m unsure if that was part of the joke, or if there is indeed a new song that he just couldn’t remember.

Chong starts to spout some humorous anecdotes about pot and parenting. He mentions his taping on Bill O’reilly, taking a jab at the pundit saying “Where ever Bill goes, he has to be him.” His apparent improv monologue is entertaining and engaging, but not real funny. The lights go dim. No applause or laughter this time.

Lights go up. Cheech comes out and the narrator screams over the speakers “Basketball Jones!!!!!” There is slight clapping. Cheech begins to sing along to the famous ditty backtrack, but it seems out of context and lags to the point at which I was almost embarrassed. Toward the end of the skit when the stage hand drapes the cape over the kneeled down Cheech’s shoulders ala James Brown, there is skittish laughter/applause. Cheech stands up and is being fanned like James Brown, still singing the falsetto theme. In between the lyrics it was audible when Cheech directed the stage hand to “walk me off stage!” The stage hand did so and the lights dimmed. Faint claps and no laughter.

Lights go up. Chong walks back out with a guitar. There are a few request shouted out. “Sing Mexican Americans!” I heard. “Beaners!” another voice yelled. Chong proceeds to tell us “This is one of those, ya know, real relaxed shows.” and chuckles a bit. Chong’s showing of his humanity lent way to some feeling of levity whereas the vibe was oddly heavy.

Chong starts in with the waltz, Cheech walks out and begins to sing “Mexican Americans.“ The audience tries to sing along, but the words are slightly varied, and by the end choppily made up. They get through the number and somebody is still screaming “Beaners! Beaners!!!!!” It is obvious to me now that there is a lofty Latino presence in the audience. “Beaners” isn’t exactly an anthem of Latino culture however, which I thought odd. Started wondering how it would play out. Cheech saved the day by improving toward the end of the song, getting back into “Mexican Americans,” and ended the song with “we’ll be here forever and only want what’s fair” to much applause. Then they looked at each other and Chong asked “you wanna do it now?” Cheech nodded and they started singing “Up in Smoke.”

They tried to get the audience to sing along, but sadly it didn’t appear that enough folks knew the words. I was singing. Maybe five percent of the rest of the audience did so as well. The song ends to less than hearty applause. The boys say thanks and good night. More nervous applause. The lights dim. People start to get up out of their seats. Shelby quickly walks back out, apolog
izes for the technical challenges, bad transitions and sticky flow. People sit back down. She then says she’s glad the first show was in Boulder because we’re “so cool and understanding.”

She says there will be a “meet and greet” after the show. She says we can pay $75 per person for this and that proceeds will be used toward aiding the Haitian earthquake relief. She walks off the stage and the lights dim. There’s little to no applause. People restlessly move in their seats unsure if the show is over. Like them I’m thinkin’ “Is that it?”

Then Chong walks out as an old guy wearing a mason’s funny little hat complete with tassle. The “elderly couple going to a porn movie” skit beings as Cheech walks out dressed like Edith Bunker from the TV show All in the Family. Basic premise: old guy makes his wife watch a porn movie in a public theater. The skit had a slightly misogynist tone, not unlike Archie Bunker, a tone which may have been considered normal in that period of American culture, but seemed to fall on deaf ears at The Macky.

The skit ended oddly, the lights dimmed and there was staggered applause then a seeming bewilderment, not unlike head interrupted … no climax. Lights came up, and folks shuffled to the exits.

So that is as good of an account of the event as my notes and memory allow. Normally there would’ve been much venom from yours truly, but I can’t bring myself to slam my heroes because of all that they have done to bring some levity into this world, into my world. I can forgive them for having a rough go of it on their first performance of the tour, but with a ticket price of $62.50, and in this economy, I admit I expected something a little greater than what felt like a production which ran more like somebody’s nieces’ first grade play than a performance by the iconic and legendary duo that is Cheech and Chong.

My last note written was “I would be pissed if I had paid for this show.” There’s still hope for salvation. They simply need to work out the kinks, the many kinks that prevailed at their Macky performance.

The good news however was that there was nowhere to go but up from here, so we optimistically set out for part two of our stoney trek.

The Wailers

We were on “island time” as we eagerly waited for the once Bob Marley backing band to dawn the stage. Slated start time? 10:15pm. Actual start time? 10:50. Fuckin’ stoners. It was humorous because during the interim, each time the house music would fade, the audience began to buzz and hum, slight applause rising up out of the already bobbing heads. Then another song would start over the house speakers, and the sold-out crowd would be lulled back to slumbering anticipation. I observed this phenomenon at least a handful of times. Never realized that fading house music was some sort of unconscious indicator that the band is about to play. Hmmm. Nobody seemed to mind the wait much once The Wailers made it out onto the stage.

They came out with a solid one-drop rhythm and vibed instrumentally for a few minutes before the singers joined in. The groove was heavy. Just before the singers came onto the stage, a Bob sample was played of him speaking with a different audience from years ago, but the audience in attendance was still eating up every word as if Bob himself was there. In many ways, he was.

The Irie vibes were undulating throughout the crowd. It was noticeable that this crowd was there, ready for some spiritual reggae energy. When the crowd is willing, the energy transcends back and forth between the band and the audience, rising ever higher and higher as the performance goes on.

As things got rolling I was zoning in on The Wailer’s front man. He had the Bob dreads, the Bob moves, but was still a pale comparison to the OG Rastafarian. I began to feel a slight annoyance, but then quickly realized what a difficult job it must be to sing all these iconic reggae tunes, with one of the oldest reggae bands still performing, being fully aware that you are not, nor will you ever be as good as Bob. Who could be? It’s not just about sheer ability. After this process I began to enjoy the performance much more.

Once a classic Bob tune begins I think there’s a part of us that, (at least in me) instinctively and possibly subconsciously to some, expects Bob to be there and an immediate disappointment at whoever happens to be in his stead. The last time I saw The Wailers, they had a different singer and I recall going through the same process. Letting go of that expectation makes the performance much more enjoyable.

Anyway, the vocal support structure of the beautiful back-up singers is enough to make you almost forget it’s not Bob singing. They sang their asses off and nailed all the harmonies as if they had been singing them all their lives. They definitely gave some spark to the setting and were crucial in their support of the lead singer.

The lead guitar player, while dressed more like Tiger Woods than a Rasta, played some amazing stuff. Throughout the entire performance he continuously spewed forth screaming leads and shredding themes, adding an edge to The Wailers I have not previously witnessed.

The keyboardist was also spectacular. Not only was he providing the “bubble,” but he played all the horn lines on top of that. Typically I don’t like “horn patches” on keys but whatever he was using sounded fantastic. As well he was playing the exact lines in the right register, which really thickened up the broth of the bubble, and the over all texture of the ensemble.

The rhythm
section was dead-on-drop-dread in the pocket. The only remaining original member, Aston “Family Man” Barrett, played bass and would jump on percussion while -who I was told was- his son took over the low end duties on a few numbers.

(Quick contextual note: Family Man has lived an amazing life. Outside of Bob, he and his late brother, who was the original Wailers drummer, Carly Barrett (died in 1987), had played with the likes of Sting, The Fugees, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana, Alpha Blondy, and Burning Spear. There’s a lot of history in a Wailers performance. They’ve spread the Irie vibes all over the world and deserve all the respect they continue to get.)

I never got to see Carly perform live, but the drummer playing this show held it down seamlessly and all the various reggae rhythms as good as one could desire.

All the grooves were hard blazin’ and in your face. I cannot say enough about how solid the band played the tunes. They played the favorites and some B-sides as well. The songs sounded as good as ever, with the only minor infraction of no Bob.

To sum up: Any reggae fan could always benefit from the experience of a Wailers’ performance.

In all, January 16, 2010, will long go down as one of the great evenings for cannabis culture in Colorado. These performances should have been held on 4/20, but having such a wealth of pinnacle cannabis characters all within a mile of each other on one night was a stoner’s dream.

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2 Comments

  1. I enjoyed the show alot more than I expected. Yeah it wasn’t polished but hearing all those classic bits rocked. And Cheech doing “Born in East L.A.” ruled, that movie is classic as well. Really liked the stuff about Chongs arrest too, I read his book and saw the film they made he really got screwed and crap like that is part of that is why we need this humor like theirs.

    I almost bailed on the show at the last minute but glad I went. Good shit!! They are true blazers…I mean trailblaizers.

  2. ok….the wailers r good…but…the original wailers r the shit….you have jr marvin and al anderson leading this ensemble….ive compared both shows and i will pass up a wailer show for the original wailers anytime anywhere..actually they r in richmond at the hat factory sunday nite….i wont be there…steve,desi and chris of the ow r dead on the money…backups r great and its an awesome show…i could be bias coz i knw these guys personally….but u be the judge..catch them near u….

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