Ah, the '70s. Disco in the clubs, Fonzie on the tube, "Frampton Comes Alive" on the turntable, a Pinto in the garage, feathered hair on the head, a comb in the back pocket and Farrah's poster on the wall. Life was so much simpler then.
Or was it?
On Sunday, a conceptual disco group whose members represent archetypes from the Greenwich Village world of the day -- well, actually, they represented "dress-up fantasy" figures popular in gay nightclubs -- arrived for a performance inside the Seneca Niagara Casino Events Center. Eminently entertaining, ridiculously campy and emblematic of a time when no one seemed to be noticing metaphorical implications or ironic intent, the Village People played their hits. Man, it was weird. Wasn't "simple" at all.
The mostly full house, comprised of folks who, if I had to guess, probably had a median age of 50, lapped up the lascivious innuendo and disco-fied shenanigans like good soldiers.
Speaking of soldiers, original member Alex Briley has updated his military uniform, from the rather innocuous '70s sailor incarnation to the much more period-specific desert fatigues, Iraq War-era gear. This could've turned the Village People's massive hit "In the Navy" into a military service-based smackdown between land and sea contingents. But it didn't. The song proceeded without incident, although Briley suggested that the assembled get on their feet to salute our men and women in uniform. They complied.
The irony anyone might've been looking for -- and, if one can base one's perceptions on the empirical data, no one was really looking for it -- was buried in the subtext.
The Village People's biggest hit was "In the Navy," a rousing football stadium chant-slash-disco singalong, one that was briefly considered by the Pentagon publicity arm as an anthem suitable for recruitment adverts. Eventually, someone figured out that the Village People were actually part of the gay community, and all bets were off. That's a shame. A collective of men singing out the virtues of a club they'd never legally be allowed to join would've been as delicious as a folded slice of Greenwich Village pizza at 4 a.m. after a night of clubbing.
Originally the idea of French songwriter Jacques Morali, the V.P. came together as a vehicle for the blend of show-tune smarminess, camp, soul, R&B and dance music that would define the end of the '70s.
Centered on the soulful vocals of now deceased-singer Victor Willis, the Village People began to assemble, with Morali culling recruits from the Village theater and club scene, until he'd found himself an "Indian," a construction worker, a police officer, a cowboy, a military man and a biker. Platinum success followed.
These days, the Village People road show is a revue-styled celebration of '70s camp and maybe a little of that decade's decadence, too. Willis was replaced, after the group's commercial heyday, with Ashford & Simpson relative Ray Simpson, and G. Jeff Olson replaced original "cowboy" Randy Jones, while original cast-members David "Scar" Hodo (hard hat), Felipe Rose ("Indian") and Alex Briley (military guy) stuck it out.
With the help of new biker recruit Eric Anzalone, the group tore through a set of its hits and album tracks. There was no live band, as the six singers appeared before a scrim amalgamating New York City and sang their parts to pre-recorded tracks.
The set opened with "Macho Man," and proceeded to touch all the People's bases, from the vaguely sinister "Go West," through a medley of '70s disco hits, until the culminating "YMCA." Yes, the assembled stood up and performed the accompanying semaphores during this evergreen wedding favorite. I'm not sure what to think of this fact.
So, a good show, if that's what you were looking for.
The Village People
Sunday night in Seneca Niagara Events Center, Niagara Falls.