The Puppets Are You: almighty Opp

almighty opp_2.jpg
Photo: Robby Herbst.

What is the almighty Opp? They're slow in responding to my journalistic questions. It's not a problem, this way they remain enigmatic. Jeffrey says he and Kranko formed the almighty Opp eight years ago. I'm uncertain when they began holding their "monthly services" on the corner of Western and Elmwood in Koreatown, but it seems they've been doing those for some time now. Is this puppet theater performed on a K-town corner? That doesn't begin to describe the wonder of almighty Opp.

It's 9 p.m. on a Saturday in July and I'm waiting on the corner with a friend. The message says the show starts at 9 p.m., but nothing at all is occurring and it's past 9 p.m. Peering west down Elmwood, the street appears densely forested and dark at night -- but those are mostly parked cars and the many low-rising apartments crowding the street. My buddy and I are considering leaving, but we then hear a looped set of sounds. It could have been a lame ice cream truck, then along comes a duo mounted atop bicycles. The pair, Jeffrey and Kranko, appear dressed as vaguely psychotic clowns, or maybe they are European? They do not disappoint with their oddness. They move silently and with purpose -- it's not quite pantomime they employ before their audience, but it may as well be. The bike pulls a trailer. "The bike is a collaborative sculpture that constantly evolves and becomes more refined as we utilize and learn about it," explains Jeffrey.

Photo: Robby Herbst.
Photo: Robby Herbst.

When parked at the northwest corner before the gate of an auto rental lot, the trailer is unfolded -- it sets forth a mysterious array. The ensuing unpacking and construction of a stage is a show unto itself. The cart and its contents are transformed into a complex apparatus -- complete with stage lighting, sound systems, instruments, props, puppets, a confetti cannon, propaganda, two big tops, perhaps a catwalk, a certificate of appreciation from the City of L.A., a reliquary, some sort of power supply, and God knows what else. I will not describe the complexity and ingenuity of the construction of the almighty Opp stage because I cannot -- it's too complicated, perhaps wondrous. Plus, like erosion, it occurs over time. If part of the infamy of the Grateful Dead is owed to its behemoth Wall Of Sound array, then the almighty Opp can be known for its stage. I hope you experience its construction -- it takes about 30 minutes to set up. It's worth seeing the way they put everything together, at least one time. Seriously.

My friend Evan hipped me to the almighty Opp, he said "almighty Opp changed my life for the better." Did I fail to mention that the almighty Opp is a puppet show? No? Is this because there are so many other things to say about it? Noise concert. Tent revival. Public spectacle. Cheap art bonanza. Freak show. "A Rapidly Growing Friendship Network" is what Jeffrey contributes.

The services I attended were several months apart with many of the same skits and songs -- though some were dissimilar. Each service had a different feel and I would go again. The July performance felt like a revival, the November service was more a noise festival. I had to leave the July show early, but as I was leaving it appeared a homeless man was giving an elaborate heartfelt testimonial to the power of almighty Opp. In November, the testimony, by a frequent attendee, appeared pro-forma. In July, an opening sound collage, "It's OK That It's Not OK," really struck me as a psalm to Saint Make-It-Fucked-Up. When Jeffrey or Kranko (I can't tell them apart yet) implored us successfully to chant along, "It's OK that it's not OK," I felt the sad neglected puppets, dirty bus stop, L.A. smog, elderly pets, and broken yet struggling lives. November's worship segments felt rushed. But the confetti cannon blasts rocked me two times. And the 20 minute finale -- a long dirge of sound with accompanying shadow puppet demonstration of the rise and descent of mankind -- hit hard like a sludge-filled Melvins spirit thrasher.

Photo: Robby Herbst.
Photo: Robby Herbst.

The puppetry of almighty Opp is proficient. Characters sing almighty Opp songs, they clear the stage and make way for the next puppet act. They perform cheap stunts -- frequently involving flight. They are cripples, beneficiaries of a telethon doubling as a passing-of-the-hat-for-the-performers. A skeleton plays the upright bass. At one point a boy named Pedro is ferried by almighty Opp across the intersection to the opposite side of the street. Then Pedro is hoisted up a lamppost -- whence a device is implemented which turns out to be a zip line. The line is spooled back across. The child then plummets horizontally across the street, whereupon he is greeted by forced fanfare, and if I remember correctly, the first burst of the confetti cannon.

The Old Weird America comes to mind. Their internet trail includes performances at a nursing home and a dramatic video in the L.A. River channel. My friend Evan told me that either Jeffrey or Kranko was, at one time, a studio assistant for the artist Chris Burden. At the November performance, a crowd is gathered as almighty Opp set up. The guy next to me has a lawn chair and is drinking a Big Gulp. He puts on blue latex gloves to smoke clove cigarettes so that later he will not smell like those clove cigarettes. He tells me he's from San Diego and comes to L.A. just for this lo-fi street corner show. He is in bands, and knows of almighty Opp as important musicians. He tells me that Jeffrey plays all of the music we will hear live. He talks about a music venue in Venice I have never heard of called Robbins Sculpture Garden. I don't know why the almighty Opp does what it does, dressing up in clown face, putting together elaborate free shows at night in a noir rich neighborhood. I do not know how long they will be doing this for. Jeffrey says, "It makes us happy that a wide variety of people take time from their lives to join our services in Koreatown."

Photo: Robby Herbst.
Photo: Robby Herbst.

It takes place by a stop for the 207 Metro Bus. When a bus releases its riders, they watch some of it. Other people walk upon it. Regulars come early or straggle in late. A family with their sleepy, small children, turn in early. Similar to the neighborhood, the crowd becomes diverse. A cop car is interested. The police park it and amble over. They hang back, now visibly amused. After a time they return to their patrol car and head out. Traffic zooms past. Car radios and passenger conversations become the backdrop or rhythm or texture for the performance. Occasionally Kranko or Jeffrey or the puppets talk about the evening, making references to the night taking place around them. The smell of tacos floating in from elsewhere is magical.

Did I say the almighty Opp stop frequently to encourage strangers to greet one another during the performances -- and we all do? Did I say that one of the coolest parts was when Kranko or Jeffrey came out from behind the stage to show us personally a small mirror so we could see ourselves there smiling in his hand, and then he shared with me a hug? Did they sing these poorly transcribed lyrics:


The curtain the strings we can make you do things. The puppets are you. You think the show is just watched by you, but the puppets are you.


Did I mention that almighty Opp set out a small library of charmingly composed circulars for you to take? The titles include: "How To Examine Your Testes," "The Past Is Not The Problem," and "A Tie Can Help You Feel Good About You." Did I mention almighty Opp placed a sad robotic toy dog out to flail before us on the pavement for the duration of its July performance? Did I discuss that creepy-ass sculpture at stage left? Did I say that the certificate of appreciation they display is signed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa himself? almighy Opp were honored with it, completely by surprise, when the LAPD dropped it off amidst a performance. It congratulates them for "seven years of hard work and community service."


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