Wish You Were Here
Our humble writer dons a cop costume to find out what it’s like to go onstage with El Monstero, St. Louis’ most flamboyant Pink Floyd tribute act.
Photography by Todd Morgan/Backbeat-photography.com
It’s a basic truth: A nearly unquantifiable amount of work goes into the staging of El Monstero’s shows. But unless you witness the experience from within, it’s hard to understand exactly how much time, effort, and talent is committed to each gig.
This past summer, the well-seasoned St. Louis–based Pink Floyd tribute act undertook its second outdoor festival show, after years of selling out indoor venues like The Pageant. After a single outing at Jefferson Barracks Park in 2011, the band realized it needed an even bigger stage; so many people showed up, the basic amenities (bottled water, toiletries) were completely wiped out. The only place that fit the bill for this year’s single summer show was Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre.
To witness this from a unique perspective, I asked about getting a role in the show. As I already knew numerous members of the group from their many years in other bands, that only took a little bit of finessing. A week out, I was confirmed as a cop, part of a nine-member-strong faux police force, employed throughout the sprawling, 2 ½–hour show.
Cast call was initially set for 11 a.m.; on the eve of the show, it was pushed back to a kinder 1 p.m. arrival. The day prior, dozens of production techs had built out the multilevel stage, returning in the early hours Saturday to do the band’s sound check, an hours-long affair that saw the core seven-man band working in at least an equal number of guest artists, background singers, and single-song contributors.
As the day progressed, backstage filled with dozens of additional cameo players. Dancers, fire spinners, an entire squadron of mohawked children for “Another Brick in the Wall”… The backstage area hummed with new bodies, and the energy level kept growing. Some hours after arriving, we cops were professionally fitted for coats and hats, as makeup artists added layers of dark, ringed eyeliner.
A few members of El Monstero were already on the side stage, playing to smaller audiences with their original music acts. Within a half hour of showtime, an assembly was called, and around 100 people stood in the corridor, taking in detailed notes about pyrotechnics and the pinpoint entrance of an actual helicopter, which would signal the arrival of vocalist Mark Quinn (who was actually already backstage, in the first of numerous costume changes).
By the time the helicopter made its flyover, the show had begun, the band playing a modified short set of early Floyd material in front of a huge sheet that dropped after three songs, revealing the massive metal staging and ambitious light show. Floyd’s biggest hits were given a workout, cops alternating with go-go dancers, pig-faced stilt-walkers, and a Headmaster played by Brian Vander Ark, possibly best-known as the songwriter/vocalist of The Verve Pipe’s ’90s alternative-rock chestnut “The Freshmen.”
Eventually, our time onstage was done—a bummer, since every time we went out, we got a rush of energy from being in front of nearly 15,000 fans. As the junior member of the crew, I was sent to far stage left, still a good enough place to watch the audience swell from the reserved seats to the highest levels of the lawn. (Admittedly, my glasses would’ve helped, but…anything for rock ’n’ roll.)
For our last act, the cops followed saxophonist Dave Farver into the crowd, where he played “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” people shouting and howling as we tracked him with beams from our oversize flashlights. Then we hit the stage, slowly funneling behind the band into the dressing room, where a few folks hatched plans for post-show parties.
After a full day’s hanging out, though, I’d reached my personal outer limits of rockin’. I hung up my coat, laid down my helmet, and wandered into the crowd, makeup still on, a buzz still running through my veins.
El Monstero plays The Pageant (6161 Delmar, 314-726-6161, thepageant.com) December 21 through 29 at 8 p.m. For more info, go to elmonstero.com.