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Friday, March 21, 2014

Recap: War Steals the Show at Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke Tour

cheech and chong up in smoke tour riverside theater
Photo credit: Sara Bill
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Seminal stoner comics Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong have been giving potheads something to laugh about throughout the 1970s and into the ’80s with more than 10 iconic marijuana-themed movies and eight albums as Cheech & Chong. In 1985 the duo’s partnership was officially cashed when the buds stemmed in different directions in a heated split. Marin added numerous credits to his acting resume, as Chong served minor prison time in 2003 and 2004 and took on sparing supporting roles thereafter.

In 2008, the collaborators in cannabis comedy set aside their differences—mostly—and returned to the stage to tour occasionally, with talk of a long-awaited sequel to 1978’s Cheech & Chong film debut Up in Smoke. Thursday night, the pair (along with the remnants of ’70s funk mainstay War) packed the lower and upper bowls of Riverside Theater to treat fans to two-plus combined hours of greatest hits material during a shaky variety show.

Before either project came out, Chong’s wife Shelby started the legalization rally with five minutes of exclusively drug-based material before introducing her husband and Marin—who wasted no time winning the already-enamored audience over with a well-placed Conejito’s reference—and leading them in a Q&A session that lasted about 10 minutes.

After the unexpectedly crazy crowd reaction when Chong referenced his recurring role on “That ’70s Show” dissipated, War joined the trio on the stage to provide accompaniment for three songs. Paramount among them was high-pitched 1973 Cheech & Chong song “Basketball Jones.” Soon, War was left alone on stage to play the first half of an hour-long split set, including an airtight rendition of hit “Cisco Kid” that even inspired a tone deaf (or perhaps just “impaired”) man to grab the mic and belt along—which was easily the funniest moment of the night.

As War ended, a trench coat and satchel-toting Marin conspicuously approached the microphone stand to reset Cheech & Chong’s most famous bit, “Waiting For Dave,” from the duo’s Grammy-winning debut album. Following that famed stoner’s version of “Who’s On Third?” the sketches continued with a tribute to Christmas that made semi-timely pop culture references to Charlie Sheen and attack drones in futile effort to freshen it up a bit. From there, they smoked invisible joints and mimed ingesting acid tabs in a reprise of “The Low Riders.” Midway through the bit, one of many middle-aged men captivated by the veterans walked to the foot of the stage and left a massive prop joint on the stage. Chong tore an end open, peeked inside (liking whatever he saw) and tucked it under his seat, likely to imbibe later.

After the duo’s longest stint of uninterrupted comedy (about 30 scripted minutes), War returned to play “Spill the Wine” flawlessly, and extended versions of deep cuts to showcase the skill of the talent that only remaining War member Leroy “Lonnie” Jordan brought in. Surprisingly, War, which was incredibly tight and energetic throughout, stole the show. Beyond playing its own cache of time-tested material, it stayed on stage to play the headliners off as the comics sleepwalked through Chong-portrayed blues character Blind Melon Chitlin’s ode to—you guessed it—smoking weed, Marin’s Mexican-American national anthem and a pot-tinged take on War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”

While the majority of the crowd seemed to be fairly happy to witness influential skits (with slight modern redressing, if any) by stoner gods at a rare reunion performance, the once-potent strain of comedy Cheech & Chong revolutionized has seemed to lose the effect it had 30-some years ago in the long and somewhat disappointing “Up in Smoke” tour.