By Lisa Burke
August 5th 2016, The Regent, Los Angeles CA:Costumes featured in rock n roll, punk, and heavy metal bands have been a tasteful or not-so-tasteful debate for many years, with a vast array of varied opinions on the subject. Questions and debates have risen on this subject with most who are on the anti-costume side forming the uninformed opinion that it “cheapens” the music despite the obvious extra added cost to provide said costumes, props, and other-worldly stories into the live performance. The bottom line here that it is important to ask oneself at least these two questions before judging any band in this theater of the absurd category 1.) Would the music sound skillfully executed with or without the costumes? 2.) Were the costumes, extra costumed characters, props, and theatrical action telling a story that was enhanced by the music or vice-versa? This is how you step out of the box of band gimmick or shtick versus well thought-out musical stage performance. On Friday August 5th 2016, at the rising highly favored downtown music venue The Regent, I attended a very interesting live heavy metal, rock n’ roll and punk show featuring four diverse bands who all use costumes and props as a major part of their live performances. Headliners for the evening were Mac Sabbath with support from PPL MVR, Haunted Garage, and Radioactive Chicken Heads. This show was chock full of weirder-than-weird themes and lyrical comedy that also had its significant moments of skill and talent that deserve a call-out.
Starting shortly before 9 PM was punk/rockabilly chicken and vegetable themed character band Radioactive Chicken Heads whose concept includes the lead singer Carrot Topp and guitarist Cheri Tomato with their band of chicken heads that just want to be in a rock band but get thwarted by pests such as a Chuck E Cheese imitation character and a Badd Bunny. They definitely bring a smile to anyone’s face with the silliness of their simplistic punk rock song structure mixed with laughable characters, such as Bird Brain the bass player, and Poultry Geist who is a ghost chicken in a white sheet with X-ed out eyes. They have anywhere from six to thirteen people on stage depending on the song requirements, and when you think about how simplistic the nature of the music and story is and then how involved each song becomes with its different characters dancing and fighting somewhat GWAR style, it does become appreciated. While they started under another name Joe And The Chicken Heads in 1994 and obviously were influenced by GWAR and Green Jelly, they also have their own brand of ska punk and rock n’ roll that has given them a unique voice. It was refreshing that every song was different from the last and told a different story with a comedy skit flavor. Favorite numbers were ‘I Looked In The Mirror’, and ‘I Eat Kids’ which were both Barry Louis Polisar covers utilizing fun skits, the first of which featured an Evil Carrot character which battled the lead singer and accidentally revealed his face at one point as his headpiece came off during the fight. Breaking the suspension of disbelief at a show like this only makes it more fun, so no harm done there. Then ‘Pest Control’ happened as a cheese head character came out to dance and lure the Chuck E Cheese character into destruction and death by the lead singer with a plastic knife. He made a joke about how it was a stupid costumed character and how this band wants him to die because they, unlike him, like to “keep it real” and they unmasked him at the end to reveal a faceless face covered in a unitard hood with a spiral over the face. Then came the Badd Bunny song where a pretty terrifying giant bunny-faced person comes out and gets his face ripped off to reveal his radioactive red eye and metal insides by none other than Techno Destructo aka Hunter Jackson from GWAR. If all that wasn’t weird enough for you, the finale was even weirder where Techno Destructo now plays lead singer to the cover of David Bowie’s ‘Moonage Daydream’. So, again, a guy with a giant wrench hand and a cod-piece in the shape of a screw who just attacked a giant bunny sings a skillful but odd version of a David Bowie classic while twelve other rotating members in the band dance and play instruments in their various chicken heads and vegetable heads. If you enjoy fun and silly times with stage play and fun punky tunes, I recommend seeing these guys at least once.
Next up turned out to be my favorite pick of the night, B-horror punk band Haunted Garage featuring all things gore including dancing gore girls, blood splatter, a green alien prop, and the only consistent member since the band’s origin in 1985, singer Dukey Flyswatter himself in a flesh-faced gory ‘Leatherface’ style apron. This current line-up formed in 2013 and while I believe some of the original antics have died down a touch as Dukey Flyswatter has aged and re-worked a few new aspects into the mix and for one reason or another spent a significant amount of this show sitting down on the stage, all in all they had just the right amount of prop/costume versus talent. The biker-esque style lyrics mixed with the very impressive riffage duality between their custom guitars and skilled players, for one of which the guitar body fits right into the flesh and gore theme in its intricately sculpted and painted design. The bass player was wearing an orange jumpsuit and had ‘electrocution head gear’ on as if he just escaped the electric chair. There was a pretty terrifying evil flying monkey that came out to dance at one point and so did the ‘faceless’ guy in the suit and red tie, as the spooky and fun riffage continued on and the singer ate a ‘human heart’ once as well. The witty play on horror themes happened throughout the set and evilness ensued. This band actually has only one studio album, two EPs, and numerous songs released as part of film soundtracks. The latest EP was self-released this year and is titled ‘Slenderman And Other Strange Tales’. I thoroughly enjoyed the madness of it all, and as far as unique and unexpected goes, this band rose to the top on this night with a successful concept that isn’t afraid to keep it appropriately weird.
Then came my first PPL MVR experience that was completely extraordinary in every sense of the word, including the deduction that they clearly dislike vowels as the singers name is SNWBLL and he is among the Yeti people also known as Sasquatch, Bigfoot or an Abominable Snowman. So, basically three out of the five members dress in similarly creepy Yeti costumes of various colors and make you understand what a mind-bending experience feels like without mind altering substances. The singer played a ‘bloody fang’ guitar and the bass player played a two-string bass somehow impressively that was a mind-blowing concept to me. The backdrop video screen featured creepy warping faces of the band members in full Yeti weirdness, among other things. There were elements from various genres of music involved where it went from dirty rock with catchy grooves to a more electronically enhanced keyboard-driven style that was played by a human keyboardist, go figure. Vocally, when the lead singer sung un-enhanced it was enjoyable and well crafted, but then as soon as it waved into the modified, almost dub step style vocals, it was hard to swallow. Yet, watching this live versus a YouTube video is definitely a hugely diverse experience and while I thought I was in for a rough ride, I was actually very oddly surprised that it was much more quality-driven than I originally expected, and certainly contained more depth and more back story. Plus, let’s be real here, and commend these people with the highest respect and praise for not only creating their own costumes that probably are not as ventilated as well as they should be for playing instruments under hot lights in a crowded room for forty-plus minutes, but also for doing it with skill and a very uniquely otherworldly concept that most people including myself don’t even properly understand, as they have only been a band since 2014 and were very diverse in their multi-genre and human and not-so-human players. Again, I recommend a live viewing of this, as it can’t even properly be justified without the full on live experience under your belt.
After this performance, I happened to end up in the women’s restroom which is never a dull moment especially at a show of this nature, and overheard someone’s drunken babble about how one of the characters from the TV show ‘Weeds’ was in the house and she tried to attempt physical relations with him but he seemed to be uninterested. Welcome to LA and the land of the shameless, star-struck women that give the rest of us a bad name. Anyway, as I returned back onto the venue floor, I was instantly transported to the scariest side-show circus set up ever with the red-striped curtain and four scary plastic clown face props that glowed red lasers out of their eyes at me while I trembled in unknown anticipation at my reaction to what was about to come.
So, first before the curtain reveal they played a backing track with snippets of Frank Sinatra doing a cover of the song ‘Send In The Clowns’, originally a song by Stephen Sondheim. The nature of this song is very serious and Sinatra thought it very beautiful, so to chop it up and play it before a band dressed in twisted McDonald’s character costumes that serves up a message telling you drive-thru food sucks while playing Black Sabbath covers with vomit-inducing altered lyrics has its own bizarre connotations right off the bat. I pictured Frank Sinatra rolling over in his grave and then the curtain dropped and my stomach churned as I tried to get over the worst Ronald McDonald costume and wig ever on lead singer Ronald Osbourne.
As I heard mixed reviews going into this adventure, I remember those two important questions I needed to ask myself before prematurely judging this “joke” concept drive-thru metal band. Basically, the shtick is as follows, where you find yourself trying to unbury a Black Sabbath song from a pile of pink slime. The experience of Mac Sabbath possesses the challenge of trying to get something that could actually qualify as a hamburger that tastes good, out of something that has no properties of an actual hamburger to begin with. If you want a hamburger, you need to start with a cow. If you want to make a joke, you need to have the skills, concept and timing to back it up, meaning although no one expects to see Black Sabbath played to perfection here, there still needs to be a well-rounded flushed-out Black Sabbath cover band underneath this madness. If you strip it all away, you are left with a mediocre band and an out-of-key vocalist with the worst fake British accent ever. That to me is a disservice to a legendary heavy metal band right there. Then they bring in “cheap” zillion dollar corporate enterprise that is McDonald’s characters that most people hate and everyone already knows is not healthy food. They of course start with a cover of ‘War Pigs’ (or ‘More Ribs’ as they call it), as is typical of most Black Sabbath cover bands and it was full of unstable ground. The guitar player Slayer MacCheeze and bassist Grimalice definitely get some respect, as it is hard to play in those costumes and they did have some accuracy, but other times it was too skewed from reality to be appreciated, with the atrocious singing voice and fake jokes where the singer took a bite of a burger patty and fake puked in a child sand bucket. Then he sprayed water out of ketchup and mustard bottles onto the audience which made no sense to me and was not funny. The drummer Catburgler looked like a rejected KISS member and that kind of made me laugh for a minute along with the sheer idiocy of the idea for about three minutes, until I felt like vomiting in the bucket myself from the sheer vocal butchery alone.
I understand that McDonald’s food is bad, so if this band is bad then that can be funny, right? Wrong, because why pay forty dollars to see a joke that turns to torture and butchery after three minutes? If that’s the point, then I don’t believe in it. The music has to be mindful of the original Black Sabbath tunes before it can be chopped up, blended, twisted and regurgitated to the audience as the joke of the year. The concept is wild, so if the vocals were good, never mind the accent or even trying to sound like Ozzy, just start with the pitch, and get some better punch lines, for example make it more grotesque and shoot pink slime into the audience or vomit up blood after eating that burger. It needs more shock value and more skill to really appeal and sell the costumes and concept. There is even something distasteful about the costumes even though again I suppose that’s the point, but I want to be able to laugh at this and instead I end up wanting to cry and cut off my ears. The potential is there, but I think the gimmick is selling more than the skill here and that is not what music is about, so as a newly blooming band concept I give them food for thought that I hope is taken with a grain of salt and a pinch of lemon.
Conclusively speaking as a fellow costume builder and musically inclined individual, I respect this art form of costumes and props in music and find when done well can have an overwhelmingly positive audience reaction and increase in popularity of live show attendance, as this show was packed to the maximum. There are still, of course, plenty of bands out there that are simply a music group first and foremost and don’t believe in costumes, but remember that what you wear on stage is a statement and must not be taken lightly. Even if its a plain black t-shirt, it still makes a statement about you and your music, so make that black t-shirt count and speak the language of your music and talent.
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Mac Sabbath ‘Clown Power’ U.S. tour dates:
08/25/2016 – Las Vegas, NV @ Hard Rock Hotel
08/27/2016 – Denver, CO @ Marquis Theatre
08/28/2016 – Lincoln, NE @ Bourbon Theatre
08/30/2016 – Green Bay, WI @ Lyric Room
08/31/2016 – Detroit, MI @ Populux
09/01/2016 – Pittsburgh, PA @ The Rex Theater
09/02/2016 – Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts
09/03/2016 – Asbury, Park, NJ @ House of Independents
09/04/2016 – Rochester, NY @ The Montage Music Hall
09/05/2016 – Burlington, VT @ Club Metronome
09/07/2016 – Silver Spring, MD @ The Fillmore Silver Spring
09/08/2016 – New York, NY @ The Gramercy Theatre
09/09/2016 – Augusta, NJ @ Sussex County Fairgrounds
09/10/2016 – Northampton, MA @ Pearl Street Ballroom
09/12/2016 – Chicago, IL @ House of Blues
09/13/2016 – Waterloo, IA @ Spicoli’s
09/14/2016 – Lawrence, KS @ Jackpot Music Hall
09/15/2016 – Colorado Springs, CO @ Black Sheep
09/16/2016 – Albuquerque, NM @ Launchpad
09/17/2016 – Tucson, AZ @ Club Congress