Saturday night, Fort Dupont Park was taken over by a tribe of primal, musical space cadets. They wore glittering robes, pyramid hats, sunglasses, sashes and Halloween masks. They danced about at times, chanting "Space is the place," while projections of the stars flashed on a screen overhead. They called themselves the Potential American Omniverse Orchestra. And their high priest was Sun Ra.
Sun Ra has always been a musician's non-musician -- and there is always a touch of madness to his methods. He takes wildly unmusical phrases and noises and turns them into coherent "scores." Likewise, he is able to roll everything from Egyptian mythology to space-age imagery to street talk into a performance that, if not decipherable, nonetheless makes sense in the solar plexus.
The concert was a musical and viual tour de force, with clashing and dissident orchestra sections contrasted by swirling vocal and dance exchanges. Accompanied by what seemed to be a cast of thousands (actually about 30 performers), Sun Ra created a human tableau that was delightful, disarming, disorienting and wacky.
"Some call me Mr. Ra. Some call me Mystery. You can call me Mr. Mystery," he told the audience at one point. By the end of the show, it was difficult to disagree with him.