Tuesday, May 19, 2009

John Matuszak: Trio taps into rich vein of humor.

What do you get when you mix three heavy-metal airheads with a trio of faux folk singers - minus their long hair, tight spandex, plaid shirts and dickies?

You get an evening of delirious entertainment courtesy of Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, who brought their "Unwigged & Unplugged" tour to the Palace Theatre Sunday night.

The creators of Spinal Tap, the happily clueless "world's loudest band," and the Folksmen, the earnest musicians seen in "A Mighty Wind," appeared without costumes to showcase their musical parodies.

The question going in was: will the songs work without the trappings, and out of the context of the films?

The answer is a resounding yes. In a way, it might have been sad to see these now-middle-aged men strutting about in tight pants, like many rock acts past their prime (although I'm sure they would have mined this for laughs).

But like some other aging entertainers, the threesome retooled their repertoire - and the songs are funnier than before.

The hits were on display - Tap's "Hell Hole" and "Sex Farm," the Folksmen's "Blood on the Coal" and "Eat at Joe's". They had some fun with notes from NBC censor Bill Clotworthy, whose excising would have turned "This is Spinal Tap" into a 30-minute featurette.

A Q&A session revealed that Guest has an idea for his next film gestating in his head, and that he and co-writer Eugene Levy are in the early stages of turning "Waiting for Guffman" into a Broadway musical. A new Spinal Tap CD, "Back From the Dead," is due in June.

McKean's wife and co-composer, Annette O'Toole, joined the group onstage for "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" and "The Good Book Song" (Guest's wife, Jamie Lee Curtis, watched from the audience and was gracious to fans seeking photos and autographs). Arranger and keyboardist C.J. Vanston added greatly to the proceedings.

The two-hour concert was a trip through decades of musical obsessions, covering the Calypso craze, the commercialized folk revival, the skiffle that launched the Beatles, all the way to overblown arena rock.

Parody might not even be the right word to describe their take on popular music. The compositions are so carefully crafted and the men so accomplished as musicians that they come off almost as an homage - granted a pretty hilarious one.

What has always made these songs work is that Guest, McKean and Shearer demonstrate a great deal of affection for their alter egos - from Tap's Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins, to the Folksmen's Mark (later Martha) Shubb - and the genres they embody, even while poking holes in their pretensions.

This makes them an antidote to the mean-spirited, shot-to-the-groin comedy that prevails today, and keeps alive comedy with intelligence and ingenuity.

On a scale of one to ten, this tour earns and 11.

For what it's worth: Harry Shearer was the only one to stop and sign autographs for the fans who waited an hour after the show outside the stage door.Way to go, neighborino!

The tour continues Tuesday in Cleveland.


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Design is copyright 2009. All rights reserved. Bexley Public Radio Foundation. Text is copyright 2009. All rights reserved. John Matuszak.

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