Part gig, part ‘tender storytelling’ experience, and doing neither particularly well, Putting the Band Back Together is a cluttered performance piece from writer Chloe Daykin.
Its themes include: the uplifting power of music, the complex collaborative act of playing in a band, and the fears which can keep people from engaging. Unfortunately, the show just ends up begging the question: how can a subject with so much potential to swagger feel so flat? How can a group of talented musicians playing in front of a wall of amps lack energy?
As unfocused and self-indulgent as any garage jam session, it brings together an eclectic cast of theatre makers and musicians. Multi-instrumentalists all, there’s no denying their musical chops, but they never get an opportunity to cut loose. Instead, we get a medley of samey, instantly forgettable tunes arranged in the form of a ‘my life as a ten track album’ setlist. Well, just the last five. Plus the obligatory hidden bonus track, as an encore.
The only time they really rock is when they play the riff from Whole Lotta Love, proving only that Jimmy Page is a genius. Those iconic notes accompany a list of reasons musicians might give for failing to play. Coming in at number one, the thoughtful ‘I dunno.’
Fronting the show, we have Ross Millard of the Futurheads, perched in one corner, peppering the production with tight strumming and laconic banter. Representing a range of emotional states – frustration, lonely resignation, and finally happiness – Maria Crocker cavorts with wild-eyed intensity. She stomps around the stage occasionally slapping herself or yelling into the mic. This energy level would be great at a gig but here, due to a combination of volume and proximity, it just feels like being trapped in a broken down lift with an overenthusiastic radio DJ.
Alex Elliott gets the most to do, switching rapidly between drums, sax, and a more delicate performance as former friend and bandmate Mark Lloyd. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Lloyd spent the last months of his life collaborating on the creation of this show, and getting his old band back together for a charity gig.
As a tribute to his life and a provocation to use your time to its fullest, the piece takes on a deeper meaning. Each day, the core band is rounded out by musicians found hanging out around Summerhall. Tonight, they’re accompanied by steady guitarist Dave and flautist Becca, who takes a pleasantly flurrying solo. But the idea that anyone can get involved – maybe overcoming their nerves, maybe showing off, maybe just having a laugh – gets to the heart of the show’s ethos.
Don’t let your doubts stop you doing what makes you happy.
It’s a message that’s always worth hearing, and a story worth telling. Like many bands, this group have some good ideas and some real talent yearning to be used to its fullest. Despite it all, thought, the show doesn’t seem particularly put together.