For better or worse, the information that Redmoon Theatre puts out about its events can be a little vague. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out exactly what this thing is that Redmoon’s doing. That can create some cool surprises, but it can also be confusing. So what is this current Redmoon thing called J.O.E., which opened Thursday and runs through Monday at South Belmont Harbor?
J.O.E. stands for “Joyous Outdoor Event,” and it’s essentially a revamped version of the play/concert/acrobatic spectacle that Redmoon performed last summer at the same location. But it’s been expanded into a festival of sorts, with daytime activities for kids (or kids of all ages, as they say), opening bands and then the main event — the play itself — starting at 8:30 p.m.
The play, or what-have-you, is Last of My Species II: The Perilous Songs of Bibi Merhdad. Last year, the show was called Last of My Species: The Fearless Songs of Laarna Cortaan, and it purported to be the debt U.S. performance by a Norwegian singer. The gimmick was the same this time, except that the “concert” was by a singer who was — um, Persian, I think. At least, that seemed to be the gist of the humorous narration provided by a character who was supposedly an Austrian musicologist.
The Chicago Reader’s Gossip Wolf column this week revealed the secret identity of Bibi Merhdad. It is actually none other than Chicago singer-songwriter Azita. It’s pretty awesome to see Azita playing a piano as she is carried into the park like an Egyptian pharaoh.
Thursday night’s performance was rather sparsely attended. Maybe it was the fact that it was a Thursday or the fear of rain. Or maybe people were unaware of J.O.E. or confused about what it was. In any case, the crowd was so spread out across the grass and bleachers that it failed to generate the sort of audience excitement that’s really necessary for a Redmoon Spectacle to come alive. I bet it will do well if the weather behaves and bigger crowds show up over the weekend. For someone who went last year, however it was disappointing to see how much of the show was a retread. Just minutes before the show was about to end, the rain came pouring down and the spectacle came to an abrupt end — as Azita, er, Bibi was trying to play a song in the rain on her piano.
The band playing before Thursday’s show was Chicago’s great soul revival act J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound (who also play Sept. 10 at the House of Blues). There weren’t many people near the stage as they played, but several of them got up to dance. Friday’s band was Ezra Furman & the Harpoons. Still coming up: Saturday, 7 p.m.: Scotland Yard Gospel Choir. Sunday, 6 p.m.: My Gold Mask, followed at 7 p.m. by SSION. Monday, 2:30: Purple Apple, followed by a 5:30 performance of the Bibi Merhdad spectacle.
This J.O.E. thing is not the only Redmoon event this month. In fact, it feels like a warmup for the next event, which is The Astronaut’s Birthday, being performed every Thursday, Friday and Sunday from Sept. 9 to Sept. 26 in the plaza of the Museum of Contemporary Art. It sounds like the Redmoon artists will be making cool use of the MCA’s facade during their show.