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Monday, May 07, 2018

When My Movie Snarls at Me

From the Projection Booth Dept.: The Bobs have officially disbanded – they stopped by Caffe Lena, a longtime local performance venue for them, to sing goodbye to area fans – but we can still enjoy this unique a cappella quartet through their many recordings and this delightful documentary, which I reviewed a decade ago.


OVERWHELMING MAINSTREAM SUCCESS is given to but a handful these days, and typically results more from marketing than talent. The Bobs, an a-cappella foursome, never have had a hit record, they have grown a maniacally loyal, Internet-connected fan base that buys the recordings and supports the group’s cross-country – and international – tours. Not bad for a foursome sans instruments.

Lacking the pulsing drumbeat of most pop music, close-harmony singing appeals through texture and innovation. So right away your fan base is going to be that much hipper. In “Sign My Snarling Movie,” a new documentary celebrating the Bobs’ quarter century, we see those fans exult over this group, and learn that they pursue the Bobs’ concert appearances as avidly as any Deadheads.

Most of the performance footage is drawn from recent anniversary get-togethers at Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage, bringing together seven of the eight past and present Bobs. Founding members Gunnar Madsen and Matthew Stull reminisce about their start as members of San Francisco’s Western Onion Singing Telegram Company, which inspired them to go out on their own – adding bass Richard Greene and soprano Janie Scott along the way.

Stull and Greene remain; the current lineup (which you can see at Saratoga’s Caffe Lena on Dec. 1) includes Amy Engelhardt and Dan Schumacher. They kick off the DVD with a rousing “White Room” before the interviews and concert footage take over – and the interviews begin with comments from Jason Alexander, who invokes chaos theory to explain the appeal of the group.

What the group really offers is a compelling alternative to the same old song, whether it be covers or originals that they sing. This appeals to a fairly rarefied audience, so there’s a comforting sense of discovering like-minded fans as you watch this documentary.

The film is as much about the group’s stories and comments as it is about the Berkeley concerts, resulting in few of the songs actually finishing. But a generous three-quarters of an hour’s worth of complete numbers are included as bonus material.

This is a great companion to their previous DVD, “The Bobs Sing! (and Other Love Songs),” offering as it does the background to the songs and singers. And it’s great to see former members like Madsen in action. While I certainly wish upon the group the level of notoriety and financial ease that mainstream visibility confers, there’s something selfishly pleasant about feeling that I’m sharing the Bobs with my fellow connoisseurs – which this DVD affirms.

The Bobs
Sign My Snarling Movie: 25 Years of the Bobs
Coldfoot Films

Metroland Magazine, 4 October 2007

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