Amp'd: Just For Laughs 2009

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Musical showcase Amp’d was one of the best shows of the 2008 festival, featuring the likes of Bo Burnham, Tripod, Million Dollar Strong and Jon LaJoie. This year’s offering is less stellar, but the idea of a packed bill of late-night musical weirdness is still a hugely attractive draw.

Wearing what looked like a silk dressing gown, Reggie Watts made a bizarre host, muttering non-sequiteurs from behind his massive beard and massiver Afro in a range of (expertly done) accents. His segments almost felt like someone idly scanning the AM radio dial in search of a good tune. Flirting with self-indulgence, the quirkiness nonetheless paid off when combined with his entertaining musical fun and games, the best of which was his use of the loop sampler to create the uniquely funny ‘shit fuck stack’ rap, that was as enjoyable as it was swearily surreal.

Ireland’s four-man Dead Cat Bounce opened the show, but made little impression. Their idea of a musical based on the potato famine might have looked good on paper, but it held few surprises, and fewer laughs, as it played out in an over-long segment, which proved their musical credentials if not their comedic ones. When every comedy fringe musical include the suffix ‘: The Musical’ they need to stand out more than this.

MC Mr Napkins is the latest in a long line of geeky white rappers covering unlikely hip-hop subjects. But while the idea might not be original, the choice of subjects – the sphygmomanometer used to measure blood pressure and the rise of Benito Mussolini – provided wry chuckles to a compelling beat.

More unlikely musical stars in The Dan Band: two bespectacled blokes dressed like unfashionable, nerdy extras from Mad Men with a frontman in typical blue-collar get-up parodying high-energy girly pop along the Aguilera-Beyonce axis. Uniquely, though, the spoof is not on the lyrics but on the choreography, as they leap and prance around the stage. Crucially, they almost get it right: the surprise being that these unlikely trio are so agile, but the joke being that it’s not perfect. The energy and the incongruity make it work brilliantly well.

Aries Spears does spot-on impersonations of LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, DMX and Jay-Z, which is all his very brief set offered.

Behind his keyboard, up-and-coming Brit Daniel Rigby was probably too low-key and whimsical for this late-night crowd, though still raised a smile or two with his whimsy about the worm with ambitions to be an accountant and about a shattered bucolic peace.

Nick Thune brought to mind Demitri Martin – perhaps a bit too much – with his dry, highly-polished one-liners set to an acoustic guitar riff, but there are some nice touches in there. Like Rigby, the droll, acoustic songs entertained, but didn’t pack a punch.

Finally Jerry Minor gently spoofed modern R&B’s obsession with champagne, VIP bars and top models with a song comprising little more than those lyric, delivered in his pitch-shifted voice, that was so close to home it could probably pass as a genuine track.

Like a Now That’s What I Call Musical Comedy compilation, the night offered a mixed bag of styles and laughs; even if the huge hits – courtesy mainly of Watts and the Dan Band – were relatively thinly spread.

Review date: 22 Jul 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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