To bring WYNC’s Radiolab to life on stage, hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich enlisted the help of the only creature less accustomed to being seen than the radio show host: dinosaurs.
As with any episode of Radiolab, a radio show known for shooting scientific curiosities through with humanity, the performance was separated into several sections based on an overriding theme. The first bit of Friday’s Day-of-the-Dead showtime, dubbed “Apocalyptical,” focused on an alternate theory on the extinction of the dinosaurs. What better way to find out what happened than to ask a dinosaur itself?
With comedian Ophira Isenberg translating—she joked knowingly that she learned to speak dinosaur after dating a guy from Morrison—Abumrad and Krulwich went about asking a 10-foot high dinosaur puppet how it all went down. Both hilarious and somber—a heartfelt moment with a second brontosaurus-style puppet illuminated the tragic angle of these once mighty creatures—the dinosaurs made for the night’s big highlight. (Unfortunately, they don’t allow photos of these behemoths so as not to spoil the surprise for future audiences. But if you’re determined, they’re Google-able.)
While no less well done, the other sections never quite reached the heights of the first. Another portion of the show enlisted the crowd to help suggest a name for any creature that’s the last of its species, which prompted some silly responses from the peanut gallery (“Omegatron” and “Finalizer” come to mind).
True to Radiolab fashion, the show ended with a sobering story. It told the story of two actors diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a sometimes baffling condition that’s downright debilitating for actors. Instead of prehistoric puppets, a lone man sat in silhouette behind the hosts, moving a handful of times throughout the story’s 30-odd minute duration. Otherwise, there was little about the live rendition of the segment to set it apart from what you’d experience if you heard it on the radio. It would have been inappropriate to trot out props for this sort of story, but video would have gone some distance to giving the piece depth on stage.
An impressive ensemble bolstered the theatrics. Wilco drummer Glen Kotche and bassist Darin Grey made up the rhythm section, who took turns manning an array of curio noise makers in addition to their instruments of choice. The cool-handed Sarah Lipstate took on guitar duty, banging and teasing out chords to accompany action as far-reaching as a catastrophic explosion and simpering as a slowly fading bird population. Opener and honorary MC Ophira Isenberg was a crucial part of the night’s success, too, and was as funny as the band was killer.
But of course the night’s biggest plaudits were reserved for Abumrad and Krulwich, who make for an equally affable duo on stage. They even worked in some quibbling, which always comes off as an unintended byproduct of the heavily opinionated duo.
“We’re radio, so we never get to look at stuff,” Abumrad commented after showing an illustrative video at one point during the show. Dinosaurs aside, Radiolab Live’s best bits are sonic, but there’s enough to see to merit the ticket price—especially considering the podcasts are free.
Dylan Owens is Reverb’s all-purpose news blogger and album reviewer. You can read more from him in Relix magazine and the comment sections of WORLDSTARHIPHOP.
Jason Bach is a Denver photographer and a new contributor to Reverb.