thoughts on music, design and literature

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Live At The Avalon: Spinal Tap/The Folksmen

Last night my friend Jessica and I went to the Avalon for a benefit concert for the International Myeloma Foundation--in performance were Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer, better known as Spinal Tap, and sometimes known as their alter-egos from A Mighty Wind, The Folksmen.

Does For Rock And Roll What The Sound Of Music Did For Hills.

It was, in short, a brilliant night. They opened with 'Hell Hole,' and then spent the next few hours alternating between Folksmen classics like 'Old Joe's Place' and their bluegrass cover of the Stones' 'Start Me Up,' and Tap classics like 'Cups And Cakes.' And yes, they played 'Stonehenge.'

No one knows who they were....or, what they were doing.

Now I for one think their songs are just brilliantly, brilliantly funny. They're chock full of hilarious, sometimes crude lyrics ("Big bottom, big bottom/talk about mudflaps my girl's got 'em") and great send-ups of classic heavy metal clich├ęs. 'Stonehenge' is one big paean to pretentious epic rock numbers like Led Zeppelin's 'Battle Of Evermore'--complete with mandolin solo and everything.

"This pretentious ponderous collection of religious rock psalms is enough to prompt the question, 'What day did the Lord create Spinal Tap, and couldn't he have rested on that day too?"



I'm reminded of my old Royal College of Music professor, Miguel Mera, who used to ask as, "What makes funny music funny?" Spinal Tap is a great example of the answer to that question: music is funny when it takes itself seriously. What musicians find especially funny about these songs is the attention to detail that these three talented musicians have put into the musical arrangements. For example, I love the section at 2:53 when they start climbing on those diminished 7th chords--reminds me of some old Metallica song that I listened to back in junior high ('Call of Cthulu?' 'Master Of Puppets?' Can someone help me here?) Or those little arpeggios in the CS-80-esque synth....they remind me of the synth part in Styx's 'Come Sail Away'.

It's such a fine line between stupid, and clever.

Music that TRIES to be funny, often isn't. For example, turn on Nickolodeon, and listen to the background music of some of their afternoon kids TV shows. It's packed of xylophone glisses, trombone slides, and other orchestral lunacy. And is it funny? To kids, for sure. But let's not forget that kids also find making farting noise with your armpit a comedy goldmine.

I think he's right. There's something about this that is so black. It's like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.

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