If you’re the type of person who gets bored easily, has a short attention span or can’t stand hearing bands play the same three-chord songs all night long, the Yard Dogs Road Show are for you. The 11-piece ensemble perform an 80-minute set featuring musical numbers, burlesque dancers, showgirls, magic, mystical feats, danger, intrigue, hobo poetry and sword swallowers (among other things) while a drummer, bassist and guitarist provide an uninterrupted soundtrack of psychedelic-tinged circus jazz to the onstage vaudevillian madness.
The foundation of the Yard Dogs Road Show was laid nearly a decade ago in San Francisco when members Broadway, Eddy Joe Cotton and Kid Casbah performed in what Broadway describes as a “makeshift jug band.” Expanding into such an elaborate group was not the original idea, but once girlfriends began dancing along to the jug band, the threesome saw an opportunity to create a multitiered act similar to classic vaudeville, sideshow and circus acts. Broadway gives credit to the bohemian creativity of San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area as a reason for his band’s organic progression to 11-piece variety show, which can be witnessed in the current incarnation’s focus on transforming dreams into realities.
“It’s a nice dose of fantasy and dreamland so that you can expand beyond the confines of any limits of normal life,” Broadway says. “We’re open to anything from old vaudeville to post-post-modern. The show has depth, but it’s real sparkly, too. The one thing in life that I know is guaranteed fun is our show.”
Maintaining a cohesive vibe throughout such a lengthy performance with so many different members can be difficult for any act, but it’s even harder for the Yard Dogs Road Show because of the lack of an official artistic director. Everyone onstage is in charge of his or her own skit, which can create problems for integrating new material into a polished show. Unlike a traditional band who can play an unannounced show featuring all new songs, the Yard Dogs Road Show operate on a large scale that doesn’t afford many opportunities for test runs other than a select few performances for family and friends.
“It’s like a constellation of stars that keeps getting sculpted over the years,” Broadway says. “The new routines find their way in, and we revamp to make it all work. We grab what we can and run with it.”
Venue and stage size are also issues the Yard Dogs Road Show regularly face. Ideally, the group enjoy opera houses and theaters that accommodate approximately 500 people, but ideal situations don’t always happen while on tour. Once, in Durango, Colorado, they were booked into a small bar with a stage that did not allow for some of the larger portions of the show. To make matters worse, a pole in the middle of the stage hindered the routines they could perform. So, Broadway says, he made the best of it—he climbed the pole for much of that evening’s performance.
Luck is on the side of the Yard Dogs Road Show in more than just creative ways, Broadway says. Touring with a small army of performers—along with three crew members and a chicken—is a recipe for intra-band arguing and the forming of cliques, but the fact the entire touring ensemble are friends outside of the show means nothing but good vibes inside the group’s tour bus. This comfortable attitude has allowed the large party to tour the United States, Europe and South America and perform at festivals such as Bonnaroo and the San Diego Street Scene without wanting to kill one another.
“It’s close quarters,” Broadway says, “but we’ve been doing it long enough, so we know how to intermingle our energies without interfering with anyone else. It’s pretty family-based by now, so we’re all pretty close. We have family picnics and all sorts of fun events together.”
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Burlesque dancers and sword swallowers aren’t everyone’s idea of a good time, but Broadway—who spent time in Orange as a child—believes the stereotypically conservative Orange County can handle the madness that is the Yard Dogs Road Show.
“We played in Portugal, where they were pretty reserved, and they still enjoyed it,” Broadway says. “It’s 2010, and 2001 was a space odyssey. I think we’ve caught up.”
The Yard Dogs Road Show perform at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930; www.thecoachhouse.com. Thurs., Dec. 30, 8 p.m. $15-$18. All ages.
This article appeared in print as "On the Road Again: The Yard Dogs Road Show bring their post-post-modern vaudeville extravaganza to OC."