Tapping Into America…Again

My recent Aquarian Weekly cover story about Spinal Tap and the "Unwigged and Unplugged" tour.

My recent Aquarian Weekly cover story about Spinal Tap and the "Unwigged and Unplugged" tour.


I go back 25 years with Spinal Tap. That is not a unique situation given that millions of people have seen and cherish the film, but I have a special relationship with them. I possess and covet the rarely seen Billboard ad printed prior to the movie’s 1984 release, spotlighting the uncensored Smell The Glove cover. I witnessed them on their (in)glorious secret club tour that same year at the Channel in Boston. I interrogated Harry Shearer in character as Derek Smalls for Metal Edge in 2001. I chatted with Michael McKean at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival for a small piece in Premiere. And I interviewed him again for my recent Aquarian cover story, which chronicles their recent tour and forthcoming album Back From The Dead.

Upon receiving word about their Unwigged and Unplugged tour, I jumped at the chance to see the core trio – Christopher Guest (aka Nigel Tufnel), Michael McKean (aka David St. Hubbins), and Harry Shearer (aka Derek Smalls) – performing acoustic (but let’s face it, actually plugged in) renditions of Spinal Tap tunes along with songs from the cinematic Christopher Guest comedies A Mighty Wind and Waiting For Guffman. Performing at the Beacon Theatre in NYC on May 27, they were joined by their current producer/keyboard wizard CJ Vanston, along with guest performers like singer Teri Roche and actress/singer Annette O’Toole. Watching with glee in the audience were CBS Orchestra bandleader Paul Shaffer and actress Parker Posey, who even threw the horns at one point.

smelltheglove1

The infamous "Smell The Glove" cover that never saw the light of day, except in Billboard's 1984 heavy metal issue. "They're not gonna release the album... because they have decided that the cover is sexist." "Well, so what? What's wrong with bein' sexy? I mean..." "Sex-IST!"

The night was not just about music but also nostalgia and fandom. During key breaks, the trio whipped out some old film and video footage – the long-lost, first Spinal Tap vignette from 1979, the cheese documentary that was the “accidental” trailer for the film and fan-created music videos – or waxed philosophical about their work. The most hilarious non-musical moment featured Guest, McKean and Shearer reading the Summer 1984 memo from Bill Clotworthy, the censor – sorry, “standards and practices” guru – at NBC, which detailed all of the cuts that Spinal Tap would incur in order to be aired at 11:30 PM on a Saturday night. Shearer drolly noted that he would have loved to have seen that version of the infamous rockumentary, which would have clocked in at about 30 minutes.

The night’s highlights, for me, were the Spinal Tap tunes: Guest’s hackneyed didgeridoo solo during the Nigel Tufnel solo song “Clam Caravan”; the “spooky” rendition of “Stonehenge” accompanied by a sputtering smoke machine; the one-bass, jazzy rendition of “Big Bottom”; and Elvis Costello’s spirited surprise performance during their Sixties chestnut “Gimme Some Money”. (I thought that was him sitting next to me.) To be fair there were other memorable moments, including the firmly tongue-in-cheek musical numbers from Waiting For Guffman, the purposely tragic folk tunes from A Mighty Wind and a ballsy folk rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” that culminated with a capella harmonies on the song’s most infamous line. It’s nice to see that middle age hasn’t softened the threesome’s comedic edge.

One British friend commented to me that the thought of Spinal Tap playing acoustic sounded awful. But the trio found new ways to perform and arrange their satirical tunes, erring on the side of clever not stupid, and prove how good the source music still is. Of course, those spoiled bastards across the pond get to see the mighty Tap perform in full costume on June 30th for their 25th anniversary show at Wembley Arena, the “One Night Only World Tour”. (No false advertising there.) While Tap are most hilarious in full regalia, this evening of collected Guest/McKean/Shearer works still rocked in its own way. Shearer certainly loves striking rock poses, even without the long locks, huge moustache and well-padded trousers.

Spinal Tap

While McKean and Guest focus on the orchestra section,
Shearer sends some love to the folks in the cheap seats.
(Photo credit: Jeff Daly.)