Xenophilia and naked men
The regular state of live music in Sacramento runs something like this: three bands, Friday or Saturday night, bar, beer, volume, beer, deaf, beer and, in the morning, the requisite headache from too much of everything the night before. Therefore, it is always refreshing to come across live music in any other setting: a theater; a CD-release show; an art gallery with live music; or, in the case of last weekend, live music mixed with performances from a local comedy troupe.
Xenophilia and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Comedy (ICBINC) are a match made in heaven, or, if you’d prefer, hell. ICBINC’s material is sketch-based, running fundamentally like Saturday Night Live skits. A single father awkwardly giving his teenage daughter “the talk,” a childbirth gone horribly (and hilariously) wrong, and a trio of “pee shy” men caught cock-in-hand at a public urinal all are topics ICBINC’s players mine for their comedic potential. The result, when they are on the mark, is quite funny. (One of their main players was caught in the Denver blizzard, so there was some frantic shuffling of sketches and parts, both onstage and off. This may have been the reason some of the material came off as protracted.)
Xenophilia’s music works so well in this setting because the group always has been comfortable giving the audience a laugh. The subject matter of its songs tends to be in the realm of the traditionally strange, with songs and stories covering UFOs, Bigfoot, cloning technology and crop circles.
With the recent departure of bassist Hence Phillips to join the Jackie Greene Band on a full-time basis, Xenophilia has been reduced to a duo: mad-scientist mastermind Xeno continuing both to sing and to dazzle audiences on the 12-string guitar, and Amy Anne providing background harmonies and occasional lead vocals. Even as a duo, it works, in large part because of the easy accessibility of the material and because of the musical skill of the members.
Xenophilia acted as the evening’s host, providing music during set changes and, at times, providing music during the actual sketches. In one sketch, a wayward country-music songwriter tries to write songs with Willie Nelson, and Xenophilia provides the actual musical accompaniment, with the songwriter essentially playing air guitar on a small broom. In another moment, the duo played the theme song to “Naked Man,” a prelude to a superhero sketch that was made all the more enjoyable because of the music.
Xenophilia is not a band that is particularly challenging, musically, but it contains superb musicians nonetheless, and this show displays them in a format that may very well be the best for their music—an intimate theater setting broken up by live sketch comedy. The bad news is that the show’s Sacramento run is closing. The good news is that Xenophilia will perform at this year’s Sammies. It’s not quite the same as seeing the band in a live-comedy setting, but perhaps it’s similar enough to make the same point.