The minister wore the yarmulke and prayer shawl of a rabbi, and his face was hidden by a noseless leather bondage mask with crooked, bloodshot eyeballs fastened to it. A mass of black chains hung around his neck, and he held a guitar covered with switches that was fused to a small keyboard. On either side of him were the attendants: three invective-spitting robot musicians (GTRBOT666, DRMBOT0110 and AUTOMATOM), a couple of stuffed apes in clerical garb and a horn section made up of headless trumpeters who somehow blew air through their four-belled horns as they danced jerkily.
If you're not already familiar with it, the story of Captured by Robots is that there was this musician (San Francisco's Jason Vance) who built robot bandmates because he couldn't get along with humans. That much may actually be true. Then, the story goes, the robots enslaved him (because he couldn't get along with them, either), rechristened him JBOT and now humiliate him mercilessly as they all rock out together. There's love in there somewhere, though, because all spring, Captured by Robots has toured the country, holding real-life wedding ceremonies in conjunction with its concerts.
"I wanted to do a tour with all covers," explained a precostumed Vance as he set up the merch table, which, among other oddments, offered a "human penis torture device" a small leather strap with pointy nubs underneath and the CBR logo on top for $2. "And I wanted to make wedding-band money," he added.
Vance is an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church ("free instant online ordination" boasts the church's site), which, it turns out, is legally recognized in Missouri. He estimates that he's married at least 80 couples on his tour, which is officially titled "Married by Captured by Robots" and runs through mid-June. Kansas City was stop number 31.
"What I'm really enjoying about this tour is that it's all positive. There's nothing negative about this except the robots being mean during the set, which is wonderful," said the energetic, prodigiously bearded Vance, who noted that it was his most financially successful tour so far.
But would any Kansas Citians tie the knot? Apparently so.
While Vance continued busying about, I talked to the few well-dressed guests to find out who would get hitched in such a setting. Adorable older couple Ted and Carole Brockman had flown in with other family members from San Diego and Idaho to attend the wedding of their daughter Bridget, to her boyfriend of eight years, Keith Brawley.
Before things began, Ted didn't seem at all put off by the strangeness of the ceremony. A father of eight, he'd seen his share of unorthodox weddings, including one in Vegas and one with the entire party in campy cowboy garb. His own wedding to Carole took place 36 years ago in Mexico, he said, "after getting terribly drunk one afternoon."
Keith and Bridget (36 and 34, respectively) had never seen Captured by Robots. Regulars at the Brick's Trivia Riot, they'd seen a flier for the get-married-for-free tour stop and decided to make each other respectable. The couple will honeymoon in Minneapolis because, as Keith said, it's the only place within eight hours' driving distance of KC that he hasn't been to yet. Ah, romance.
On the other hand, another soon-to-be-wed pair, Christy Gann and John Rodman (26 and 27) were both longtime CBR fans. Each had seen the band before, but this was to be their first show together. And it was quite a commemorative occasion, considering they'd been dating only since February.
By 10, the Brick was near capacity. It was impossible to tell who was there for the couples (four in all) and who was there just for the show. Some people came dressed in the spirit of the evening, not because they knew any of the betrothed but because it's always fun to crash a wedding.
Brodie Rush, performing as his karaoke alter ego Blow-Chi, opened the show, which was darkly amusing considering he'd just been through a divorce. Fittingly, his songs were a mixture of I-hate-you-bitch ballads and melodramatic love songs, including "Somebody to Love" by Queen.
The paper, honeycomblike wedding decorations that hung from the ceiling were practically dripping with sweat when JBOT fired up his android tormenters just after 11 and launched into a hard-rockin' wedding march. Next, he pumped up the crowd with "White Wedding" by Billy Idol, followed by the Modern English classic "Melt With You," during which DRMBOT miraculously extended its neck on cue to sing backup.
Between songs, which the automated creatures played with faithful precision, the robots showed their vile colors. When J, who spoke with a Yiddish accent, told the crowd to move closer because the 'bots wouldn't bite, DRMBOT screeched, "I will bite, bite, bite, bite your vagina!" (J spoke through the bots by flipping a switch on his guitar and playing ventriloquist; AUTOMATON, however, who delivered vicious and lengthy diatribes between songs, seemed to be speaking on its own.)
After "Don't Stop Belivin'" by Journey and "Superfreak" by Rick James, the ceremony took place. The four couples three straight and one lesbian (whose commitment, sadly, will not be recognized in this state) came to the stage, and JBOT led them through their vows. "It won't last a year," GTRBOT droned repeatedly.
After the kiss, the band kicked into "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang, then led the newlyweds' first dance with "Unchained Melody."
J stood at the ready with his Wifflebat of Annulment, with which, he said, he would "beat marriage the fuck out of" anyone who changed his or her mind. None took him up on it, and as a conga line careened around the filthy, crushed-PBR-can-strewn floor to the strains of "Hot Hot Hot," it seemed as if even the inveterately spiteful man-machines were filled with joy.