Halloween is over. But in Morristown on Monday, I saw a ghost.
The Ghost of Top 40 Past.
The Roy Orbison Almost Live Tour floated into the Mayo Performing Arts Center for about 90 surreal minutes.
Technically, the evening is called In Dreams, Roy Orbison, The Hologram Tour, with the emphasis on technical.
Whether it’s a Sweet Dream, Baby, or a Nightmare Near Elm Street is open to debate. Think: Concert Night on the Holodeck.
“Roy won’t be doing a meet-and-greet after the show,” announced Julian Frampton, who had the unenviable task of opening for a Not Quite Living Legend.
(Oh, the fun Julian will have someday opening for his dad’s holographic Frampton Comes Alive tour!)
For the record, Roy Orbison, the four-octave singer dubbed the Pavarotti of rock, who scored hits with such melancholy classics as Only the Lonely and Oh, Pretty Woman, shuffled off his mortal- and hum-bucking coils nearly 30 years ago.
Presented by Base Hologram of Los Angeles and authorized by the Orbison estate, Monday’s show featured a 3D projection of Roy Orbison that rose, like an apparition, from the stage floor and “performed” with an orchestra. I hesitate to describe it as a live orchestra; you just can’t be too sure anymore.
Video interviews with Bono and Traveling Wilburys Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne were interspersed.
How convincing was Astral Roy?
It’s important to remember that Organic Roy, a mystery man behind dark glasses, always let his songs do the talking. In life, he was not an animated entertainer. So re-animating him, via a digitally encoded actor, was not much of a stretch.
(“He’s the most consistent performer I’ve ever toured with,” offered Julian Frampton.)
At times on Monday night, I swore I could see right through it, er, Roy. Yet, as is true for all those flesh-and-blood Beatles impersonators who Yeah, Yeah, Yeah at MPAC, Astral Roy’s illusion is more convincing from afar. Which is good news for fans who opted for $69 balcony seats over the $109 front rows.
Hologram shows have been around awhile. A spectral Tupac Shakur appeared at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2012. Two years later, a virtual Michael Jackson moonwalked through Billboard’s TV awards show.
A holographic version of departed Black Sabbath vocalist Ronnie James Dio made a short European tour. For their next act, Roy’s re-creators plan to resurrect the late opera diva Maria Callas. The Orbison project may be the first full-blown tour of this kind, however.
For die-hard fans, it poses challenges. Audiences and entertainers feed off each other’s energy. Is there any point to applauding Astral Roy? Monday’s big crowd did so, reflexively, politely, perhaps a little self-consciously. Once or twice, spectators clapped in time to the music; they quickly stopped when Astral Roy did not return the love.
Now and then, Astral Roy glanced at his backup singers, or turned around to face the orchestra. He uttered a couple of perfunctory thank you’s.
If the producers ever figure how to localize these gigs–“It’s great to be back in Morristown! Heck, it’s great to be back anywhere!”–fans will find themselves in the Uncanny Valley, that creepy country where human and humanoid become a queasy blur.
For now, the Almost Live tour feels like an act that has escaped from Vegas. Is it more satisfying than just watching Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night during a PBS pledge drive?
This jury is out. But a few things are obvious.
Now we know how theaters like MPAC will survive after all the Baby Boomer Greatest Hits tours finally land permanent bookings in Valhalla.
Hologram shows will keep estate lawyers and litigators happy for centuries to come.
And going forward, whenever Roy Orbison crescendos: “It’s O-ver!” …
Don’t believe him.
If you caught the Roy Orbison Hologram Tour in Morristown, how did you like it? Add your comments here, or on MorristownGreen.com’s Facebook page.