Live Review: Making sense of the 11th installment of Harry & The Potters’ Yule Ball

The final installment in the Harry Potter movie series (until the inevitable reboot) came and went from cineplexes just under a half-decade ago. You might assume Potter fandom would’ve lost interest and glommed onto Game of Thrones or someothersuch fantasy franchise by now. But if you did assume that, you would be stupid, because staunchly unshaken advocates of Potterdom swarmed the Middle East Downstairs on Sunday afternoon (December 20) for the 11th Annual Yule Ball.

My Potter acumen consists of blurry recollections of the The Philosopher’s Stone’s first 100 pages and maybe ten or 20 minutes worth of the film adaptation. Ooooh, and I know who Voldemort is. So while I can appreciate the musicianship and stagecraft of wizard rock vanguards like Harry & The Potters and Draco & the Malfoys, I comprehend almost none of the myriad Potter-references abounding throughout their lyrics. And that’s fine — I feel the same way whenever I hear someone talk about football.

It speaks to the endurance of the Potter saga’s appeal that Hogwarts-related gimmick bands still draw bigger crowds than typical “legitimate” or “serious” acts. I lament that the same can’t be said for musical groups inspired by The Matrix or Lost — but I can only blame myself for hopping on their provisional bandwagons instead of Potter’s. It was my own folly to bet on horses that collapsed into exhausted heaps of pretension and syrupy Christian-metaphors just as they approached their respective finish lines.

But at least I don’t have to feel stupid for liking Star Wars anymore!

Neither does the South Shore’s Blue Milk Run, who debuted their lineup of predominantly Jedi-oriented pop-punk tunes. While not without its arguable faults — the plot hinged on a handful of coincidences, fidelity to the source material preempted any real surprises (even the late second act “shocker” just echos a beat from A New Hope) — Blue Milk Run lived up to the gargantuan hype about as well as anyone could realistically expect. I would’ve preferred the band to slow down and flesh out Finn’s backstory a little more, and I could’ve lived without seeing yet another pop punk band end with an exploding Death Star-type contraption. But the stellar performances by Harrison Ford and Adam Driver — especially in one particularly vital scene — counterbalanced my handful of nitpicks all by themselves.

New Hampshire’s Jason Anderson broke from the dorky pack with a batch of songs that had nothing to do with Star Wars, Harry Potter, or anything made up by anyone other than Jason Anderson. I imagine he’s already tired of Frank Turner comparisons by this point in his career, but if so, tough Christmas tree-shaped sugar cookies. An inside source told me this specific band Anderson fronts rehearses rarely, if ever, for a yearly Yule Ball set, but they wouldn’t play so good with no practice, which means my source is a liar. One song was called something like, “Falling Asleep Behind the Wheel on the Drive Home From Boston With My Cell Phone Running Out of Batteries” and I know that’s wrong, but it’s close to accurate. The correct title of that song is a tremendous song title.

As previously implied, I’m not sure what a “Draco” or a “Malfoy” is. I’m supposing these are characters whose relationship to Harry Potter is somewhat antagonistic? Halfway through their set, Malfoy Bradley Mehlenbacher unsheathed a ukulele, which prompted an outburst of insane, subhuman fury from the audience, who immediately dragged Mehlenbacher offstage and ripped him apart like Walking Dead extras descending on a supporting cast member. Mehlenbacher recovered from his apparent horrific death, and the business casual-clad Malfoys redeemed themselves with a slow-burning metal scorcher I thought was called “Hypocrites Deserve To Die” until I found out it’s actually, “Hippogriffs Deserve To Die.”

The Potter Puppet Pals delighted as usual, presenting a puppet Christmas pageant in which all the other puppets emotionally abused the Ron Weasley puppet. The Harry Potter puppet ate a butternut squash that may or may not have once been a sentient being, coincidently, also not unlike like an extra on The Walking Dead. During a brief intermission, Die Hard star Alan Rickman made a surprise appearance and performed a totally lifelike impression of a cardboard cutout of himself, much to the wonder of all. Finally, the arrival of Naked Dumbledore ensured a happy ending.

Side thought: Remember, like, five years ago when offbeat, quirky clips from the likes of Potter Puppet wrangler Neil Cicierega and co., The Chocolate Rain Guy, and even Felicia Day were the biggest click-magnets on YouTube? Now, whenever anything from the video platform blows up and bleeds into mainstream news, it’s something like a no talent attention junkie racking up hate clicks, or that guy who makes silly faces while he plays video games, or models yelling at other models for crying, and every video uses that totally annoying syncopated editing technique that makes my eye sockets contract and squeeze my eyeballs. At least The Potter Puppet Pals can still remind us of the era before the popular kids swooped in to co-opt and ruin YouTube.

It should be noted that 25 percent of the 2015 Yule Ball door was tagged for the Harry Potter Alliance — an organization evidently responsible for all kinds of rad shit. A bit before the Puppet Pals, a HPA rep announced the recent news of Noma Dumezweni’s casting as Hermione Granger in a high-profile UK Potter stage show, evoking substantial applause. Thus confirms my suspicion that many Potter fans are more chill than whichever Marvel Studios executive wrote that memo demanding a permanently white, heterosexual Peter Parker.

Inside sources speculated that Harry and the Potters may have been Bruce Springsteen and/or Devo enthusiasts before the Potter bug bit their brains. Their uproariously well-received set included a crowd-surfing rainbow snake-type thing, a magic saxophone solo, and, I’m pretty sure, a prop in the likeness of a giant’s head. The giant, Wikipedia tells me, is named “Hagrid.” Then I got distracted by a veggie burger in the Middle East Restaurant and didn’t catch the end, but I’m confident it went over swimmingly.

Follow Barry Thompson on Twitter @BarelyTomson.