No two names are more synonymous with pot culture than Cheech and Chong. Now I know that neither Cheech and Chong or War has ever played Summer Camp. That being said I’m positive that there are a lot of fans of these comedic greats from those that attend SCamp. Who knows? Perhaps they can come next year and MC the fest. It has been twenty-some years since this comedy duo parted ways following the release of Get Out Of My Room. With sporadic interaction throughout the last decade it wasn’t until 2008 that they finally began to perform together again. Each one is less than the sum of their collaboration. Cheech spent a long time trying to break into the mainstream including his long stint on Nash Bridges and supporting roles in several Hollywood films. Tommy tended to lay lower with reoccurring characters on various sitcoms. That is until he was caught up in the ridiculous sting, which was part of Operation Pipe Dreams. Mr. Chong was the crown jewel of this 12 million dollar government boondoggle that landed him in prison for nine months. Cheech found himself divorced and on the backend of a downward facing run in Los Angeles. They both emerged as funny and talented as they ever were, albeit slightly greyer and possibly a bit wiser.
For many it was a nostalgia trip, but for me it was a chance to see and photograph a couple of the most innovative and approachable heroes ever to play the comedy game. Thunder Mountain Amphitheater is a venue conveniently placed in front of a conglomerate of radio stations. This site holds around 4400 with a nice grassy knoll that frames a cement floor in front of the stage. There were just less than 3000 that made their way out to the show. This meant that there was plenty of room to maneuver, but a nice assemblage nonetheless.
“We humbly request that you don’t yell out any stupid shit…” – Chong
The show began with a quick set from Tommy’s wife Shelby Chong. She played the ditzy MC as she detailed the acid fueled clandestine meeting of her husband in a grocery store. She revved up the audience for the two stars of the show. At one point she reprimanded the drummer for tuning his snare while she was warming up the crowd. Cheech and Chong came to the stage amidst wild cheers and a thick smoke permeating from the spectators. Their introduction took the form of a pre-arranged Q and A where Shelby tossed them both various queries. They talked about their professional history and Chong’s short stint in the big house. They ended by inviting War out and singing a few of their classics with them including “Basketball Jones” and “Save The Whales.”
War performed for about thirty more minutes. Their sound was that smooth California funk that made them famous. They included a version of “Summer,” which seemed to energize the crowd. War is currently a seven-piece, however the only original member is Leroy “Lonnie” Jordan on keys and vocals. They closed out the set and everyone took a short break.
The second set began with a series of classic Cheech and Chong sketches. Save for a few modern references it was pretty much the typical shtick that we’ve all grown up with. They riffed on their regular characters such as “Low Riders” and “Dink Winkerson” without missing a beat. The audience roared with laughter as they ran the gambit of all the things that made them famously lovable. After a bit more back and forth War returned for an extended set of their hits. They played “Cisco Kid,” “Spill The Wine,” and the highly anticipated “Lowrider.” I have to say that these guys sounded great. I understand that most of the original members have either passed or moved on, but they are still playing the music that made them a sensation in the 1970’s incredibly well. Their smooth approach continues to be inviting and enjoyable. Towards the end of the show Chong appeared as his blues singing character “Blind Melon Chitlin.” Singing “Ding Dong” with a few fresh twists and turns. The show could have easily ended there. However Cheech appeared in his pink tutu and proceeded to shred some face. Chong returned with Cheech and they both performed “Mexican Americans” and “Born In East L.A.” Tommy proceeded to introduce the band only momentarily forgetting the drummer’s name. They closed the show with a massive sing-along on “Why Can’t We Be Friends.” All in all I found their stage show to be both highly nostalgic and utterly pleasurable. The opportunities to see these two performing together are limited so I was thankful that they chose to make a stop in Loveland, Colorado. We can only hope that these two comedic greats continue spreading their bleary-eyed joy for years to come.