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Being There: Titfield Thunderbolt reunion at Gallery5



It’s been years since legendary local music ensemble Titfield Thunderbolt performed live on stage. What’s an experimental Titfield Thunderbolt concert in 2014 like as opposed to their last performance in 1974?

For this guy, it's still the musical event of the year.

A little background: This was my favorite band when I was at Virginia Commonwealth University in the early '70s. The most popular, Steel Mill, featured a young singer and guitarist named Bruce Springsteen. Former Steel Mill drummer “Hazy” Dave Hazlett introduced Thursday night's show.

The set started brilliantly with Olive Oyl projected on a movie screen singing her classic, “I Want a Clean Shaven Man”; the movie screen didn’t raise so much as it abruptly and loudly disappeared and there they were. The first “song” featured Titfield’s Stymie the Hermit getting his decades-old growth of gray beard shaved off by a female fan, and afterward she shaved member Key Ring Torch’s entire head. Stymie is more or less the leader of the band, if that’s what you call a group of blind men banging into walls.

In the early '70s, multi-instrumentalist Batman Sportsware would pipe in his horn parts on a giant old-school telephone mounted on a microphone stand. Now? Skype, iPad. Batman blowing a musical epigram that would make Miles Davis smile. One problem, though: Ruben “Foot Fetish” Fitzgerald has to hold up the iPad and physically struggles to play keyboards with one hand. No one can tell though -- the musical cacophony of this experimental group flows smoothly.

At one point all members manned iPads. The stage was a spider’s web of cables, wires and plugs. Even drummer Bo Janne Valvoline had a keyboard mounted on his kit. Good reviews and compliments are not what the band strives to achieve, but the aural soundscape and gut-busting mischief on stage was, for this longtime fan, poetic and beautiful to behold.

For 45 minutes they played, warbled and hypnotized. They ended, of course, with their classic smash hit -- more than 30 copies sold -- “I Was Born on the Wrong Planet.” The group is too modest for applause so the concert ends without an announcement and the audience confused as hell.

I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.


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