They Say: Jimi. Janis. Kurt. Jim. Brian. Amy. Infamous musicians who all died at the age of 27. Join us on a rock ‘n’ roll journey that explores their epic lives and devastating downfalls.
Rachel M.’s Take:The 27 Club focuses on six members of the doomed eponymous club of rock stars who all died at 27 from complications of rockstardom. So when six singers with handheld mics come out in front of the three-piece band at the top of the show, I started puzzling out which one was Janis and which one was Amy, and if I would even recognize a Brian Jones impression, and whose hair was most trying to be Jim Morrison’s. I never decoded who was who.
It’s the smartest thing The 27 Club does, and it’s very smart: nobody is doing a Kurt Cobain impression, trying to look or speak or sing or gesture like him. We’re never quite asked to buy that one of these performers IS Jimi. Instead, the vocalists sing the famous songs in their own voices, doing their own rockstar things, and Jimi is whoever’s wearing the headscarf right now, and whoever wears the flower and the accent is Amy Winehouse. It’s much more interesting than six impersonations, and plays to everyone’s strengths. After all, no matter how hard they rock, nobody in the house is going to forget who sings “Foxy Lady.”
And they do rock the Warehouse. Director, creator and producer Carolyn Agan and music director Jake Null have put together stellar arrangements of the familiar songs, transposing them for male and female voices and writing multi-part harmonies. Standouts include Paige Taylor and Alex Piper singing a mashup of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Sympathy for the Devil”—it mashes up surprisingly well!—and Jade Jones killing “Piece of My Heart,” which made even the board op (Megan Thrift) rock out and received the only mid-show standing ovation I have ever personally witnessed. Tina Ghandchilar’s joyful “Mercedes Benz,” with backup harmonies to make it gospelly, was so thumpy and rousing I hit my head on the fire extinguisher nodding along (don’t sit all the way house left, center section, front row).
Next to the songs, though, the scripted bits, lifted from letters home and interviews, with some imagined recreations, seem pretty dull. It’s a tall order to explain why these people burned out, and the show wisely doesn’t try too hard to do that. But it makes what we do see them say ultra-significant, and when the exposition is a bit hokey, like “Ello, we’re Mick and Keef,” or when a band member straight up asks Cobain, “then why the heroin?” or we see a child wetting his bed, it’s a little too pat.
(All apologies if the heroin question is from an interview I couldn’t find—but even so, it’s so on the nose.)
Much more elegantly, we see Hendrix playing his new song for a crowd, which boos and demands “Foxy Lady” again. We see Kurt losing all respect for his audience. The performance-related elements are what we know of these people, and all the other life things, the family problems and drug struggles and prosaic moments, presented here piecemeal, fast, and part of several individual narratives, don’t seem to connect. Likewise, folk singer John Craigie’s ballad to 27-clubbers, “28,” which namechecks three of the musicians the show follows, lacks subtlety for a finale. As in, the refrain is actually “if I could only make it to 28.”
The band is excellent—especially Jaime Ibacache doing Hendrix’s (and Jones’s?) guitar, and Dan Deiter made some cool mood-setting and informative projections to help tell the story. The intrinsic power of the story remains in the songs and in the spirit of the performers who, however briefly, let us stand next to their fire.
See it if: You like a tribute concert better than a cover band, and you like Brian, Jimi, Amy, Jim, Janis or Kurt.
Skip it if: Rock stars throwing their lives away earn no sympathy from you.