Spinal Tap, Carnegie Hall, NYC 6/4
On Monday night I had the pleasure of visiting Carnegie Hall to see heavy metal's greatest band, Spinal Tap. The majority of their "Back From The Dead” tour is taking place on the West Coast, so New Yorkers were quite fortunate to have this opportunity to catch the lads from Squatney, England.
The show was sold out, and the scene outside of the venue was a little crazy. The typical scalpers were there, along with an odd dichotomy of fans— people in rock t-shirts, people in suits, people in suits with rock t-shirts over the top. I even saw two druids mulling around on 57th street. The conversations were a bizarre mix of words that ranged from yuppies discussing ways to amass more piles of wealth to some bloke who was talking about how his friend knew David St. Hubbins. (I didn't want to crush his dreams by informing him that David St. Hubbins isn't real.)
Ancient comedian Alan King walked out onstage to give a brief introduction, and he spoke a little bit about the opening act, The Folksmen. The Folksmen ebulliently bounced out onstage, and they were an acoustic trio comprised of Jerry Palter, Alan Barrows and Mark Shubb decked out with elderly facial hair and heavily receding hairlines while wearing classic 1950's red and white striped shirts (the trio looked oddly similar to Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer). They played two spirited bluegrass/folkie numbers that had the crowd howling and the playing was really tight. Then Palter announced somethign along the lines of "Folk music is such a wonderful thing. You don't know where it's coming from, but it's always going into the future. We learned this next song at one of those benefit concerts, where we were playing onstage with many famous musicians, but this song cuts to the core of folk music. Please feel free to sing along if you know it, or sing along even if you don't know it." They immediately ripped into a bluegrass version of the Rolling Stones "Start Me Up," leaving not a dry eye in the house. Shubb began to introduce the next number as "a very long and somber Irish classical ballad," but a stage hand whispered something to him and he then said, "Well that's all the time we have. Good night!"
Intermission made it painfully apparent that Carnegie Hall , or "Carnegie Fucking Hall" as Spinal Tap constantly referred to it, was a tad pretentious for this kind of show. An incredibly inept woman worked the lower balcony bar solo, and she kept running out of change. Why would they possibly think that people might drink at a rock concert? Once you had your drink, you couldn't sit down with it. I guess that they were afraid that you might spill your drink on the plush seats, but they were totally cool with you spilling your drink on the plush carpet behind the seats. Needless to say, the ushers had their hands full trying to stop people from bringing drinks back to their seats. Later I learned that the crowd wasn't quite as rowdy as the crowd for Brahms' Symphony No. 4 / Academic Festival &Tragic Overtures. You know how violent those Brahmsheads can get. (Everyone remembers the lullabies, but people often overlook Brahms' thrash/speed metal period.) I am happy to report that a certain smell permeated the air during the Folksmen, a smell that hasn't been found in Carnegie Hall since the last performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.
After several minutes of a loud "Tap!" chant from the crowd and a brief announcement by the tour sponsor, Ensure adult diapers, the legendary Spinal Tap took the stage. A thunderous version of "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" had the crowd up on its feet and pounding their fists. The lads in the band seemed more than willing to egg everyone on by strutting up to the edge of the apron in their tight-enough-to-expose-the-hidden-zucchini pants. Badass bass man Derek Smalls spent most of the evening playing one-handed while using his other hand to incite the crowd with the devils' horns sign. Guitarist Nigel Tufnel had his amp cranked to 11, and he tore off some quality solos on several guitars, a mandolin, and he even took a riotous attempt at playing the digeridoo. Lead singer David St. Hubbins always kept his hair in place while grinding his hips all over the microphone. The crowd ate up everything Tap had to offer, and it was a fun sight to turn and see a middle aged man in a suit screaming "Bitch School!" with a grin on his face.
The band delivered inspired performances of all of their greatest hits, ranging from early psychedelic chestnut "(Listen To) What the Flower People Say" to Tufnel's later solo album title track "Clam Caravan." Of course, they stepped up and brought out a serious performance on "Stonehenge," a song that is Tap's equivalent of "Dark Star." And to answer your question, yes, two midget druids danced across stage carrying a one-foot piece of Stonehenge that was dressed in an Ensure adult diaper. The crowd-pleasing midgets later returned as militant elves "with a New York attitude" for the Satanic "Christmas With The Devil."
Another big standout was a raucous take on "Sex Farm." This version, complete with a three-piece horn section, dropped the funk on Carnegie Fuckin Hall, and it actually sounded good. I would love to see Galactic take a stab at this tune someday because I'm sure that The Houseman would love to describe working on a sex farm as his band rips a funky vamp behind him.
The biggest surprise of the night came in the form of Elvis Costello. After being introduced, he calmly walked out onstage, plugged in, and stepped up to sing lead on a three minute version of "Gimme Some Money." After a few hand slaps and hugs, Elvis then left the building.
The encore welcomed Paul Shaffer, who jumped on the organ for "Short and Sweet." Shaffer came through with the best solo of the night, as he tore the instrument apart with a funky slap rhythm.
Derek announced "Now that we've come to the end, it's time for the bottom," and a tuba player aided him on the big bass lines of "Big Bottom." Ten scantily clad hoochie mamas along with a few other guitarists joined the band to jump, shake, and spank each other, closing the show in a very classy manner.
Although it was a bit disappointing that this was a pod-free performance, lacking in extravagant lights, pyrotechnics, or giant phalluses (aside from those belonging to band members), Spinal Tap still managed to rock the house and shake the foundations of this historic venue. By the time the last big bottom made its triumphant exit from the stage, Andrew Carnegie must have done a three-quarter turn in his grave.