Clem Waldmann has had plenty of experience sitting behind a drum kit at the back of a band, somewhat anonymously hidden behind the cymbals and other hardware.
But with Blue Man Group, the Detroit-born, Southfield-raised percussionist is a full-fledged part of the show, even if he doesn't get to wear the paint and the dark jumpsuit.
"There's a lot more interaction," says Waldmann, 43, who's been part of the Blue Man Group community since joining the New York company in 1995 and is on the road with the troupe's How To Be A Megastar Tour 2.0. "You still have the same basic framework as you would with being in a band, but in Blue Man it stretches itself a little bit more.
"You're not just there to play the music and go home. You're also interacting with the Blue Men and having a really active role in how the show comes across to the audience. Blue Man really reaches out to the audience and tries to get them to have this give and take that comes in a show, and everyone else on stage is part of that as well."
Waldmann started playing music in elementary school and was focused on percussion by the time he reached Southfield Lathrup High School. A stint at Michigan State University from 1982-87 didn't work out -- "I wasn't working very hard at school," he notes, "so I was politely asked to leave." -- and he subsequently went to Los Angeles to study at the Musician's Institute for a year before moving to New York.
There he played in a rock band called the Miracle Room and was introduced to some of the Blue Man Group musicians by his then-girlfriend. That led to an opportunity in August of 1995 to become a fill-in drummer for the musical trio that's part of the performance art outfit's "Tubes" show. He's also played in the "Tubes" installation in Boston and was on Blue Man Group's "The Complex" tour in 2004.
"What this opportunity has given me is the ability to connect with audiences and try and really feel like a part of the show," explains Waldmann, the divorced father of one who still has relatives -- including his father and a sister -- in Detroit and Windsor areas. He remains a devout Detroit sports fan as well.
"Sometimes if you're hired to play with someone, you're considered a sideman. But this gives me a chance to play in front of a minimum of 300 people (at 'Tubes') and now, on tour, up to 12,000 people. I don't think you get that opportunity to be able to connect on a level like that in life -- especially in playing music."
Incorporating elements of Blue Man shows of the past, including the array of percussion instruments made from PVC pipes, Megastar 2.0 fines the characters again exploring the concept of a rock concert, using a "manual" to learn about stage moves and other conventions of the venue. They then try to "bring this manual to the masses," according to Waldmann, getting the crowds to jump in time with the musicians, wave their arms, hold up lighters, etc.
"It's kind of spoofing a rock concert," Waldmann notes, "but at the same time (they) deliver this incredible experience for all the people involved."
Blue Man Group is just one of Waldmann's music experiences, however. Back in New York he also works in a rock trio called Ui (pronounced ooh-ee) and with the Loser's Lounge, a long-running, wide-ranging tribute series.
"I can't complain," he says. "I've had the opportunity of doing a theater show, going out on a larger-sale rock tour, doing smaller-scale rock tours, playing regularly in a band that covers everybody from (Burt) Bacharach to Roxy Music to Harry Nilsson. I've done weddings, recordings...
"I've really had what I consider a very fortunate and wonderful career so far. It's definitely gone farther than I ever expected it to."
Blue Man Group and DJ Mike Relm perform at 8 p.m. Saturday (March 24th) at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $87.50 and $57.50. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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