A couple of summers ago I attended the Mixtape Festival in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The festival primarily featured nostalgic pop acts or groups that would appeal to women; the headliners were, after all, New Kids on the Block. While the festival had a lot of fun acts – Kelly Clarkson, LL Cool J, 98 Degrees – it had some real logistical problems that took away from my initial enjoyment of the experience. The first night of the festival, we waited for hours to get in to the venue in the pouring rain – despite the fact that we had VIP tickets and should have presumably been able to get into the show more easily than those with General Admission. By the time we finally got in, we had already missed the first band and we were soaked; this is not the ideal way to kick off a three day weekend. I don’t really like music festivals to begin with and this was doing nothing to dissuade that opinion. To say that I was a little grumpy would be an understatement. Trying to make the most of it, we strolled over to the stage to see Steel Panther, the next band that was scheduled to perform. I had never heard of them and had no idea what to expect, but figured we might as well take them since we had to secure our spot by the stage for later performances.
Never have I ever witnessed such a complete disconnect between a performer and the audience. Steel Panther, it turned out, was both a hair metal band and a parody of a hair metal band. While they certainly sounded like the bands that I was a fan of back when I was in middle school, the band also made fun of all the tropes of hair metal bands at the same time. Their songs all sounded like they were written by a 14 year old boy and featured hilariously vulgar lyrics. They were like Poison on steroids; while plenty of hair metal songs hide behind lame innuendo (like “Cherry Pie), Steel Panther was just blunt about what they were singing about. As I actually listened to their lyrics, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself; at first I thought I had simply misheard what they were singing, but once I realized this was intentional I found it all hilarious. I was even more tickled once I saw the reaction of the rest of the crowd. Steel Panther, in all their over the top glory, were going over like a lead balloon with the Mixtape Festival audience. NO ONE was digging them other than me; everywhere I looked there were just confused faces at best, horrified faces at worst. Whoever had booked these guys had read the potential audience completely wrong. It turns out that women who still think that they have a shot with Donnie Walhberg do not enjoy hair metal bands who are in on the joke. The more uncomfortable the rest of the audience became, the more I love the whole thing. My bad mood had lifted and because everyone else wanted nothing to do with Steel Panther we would up with pretty great stage position for the rest of the night. When we got back to the hotel, I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching Steel Panther videos and cracking myself up as they continued to outdo themselves with their ridiculous lyrics; my all-time favorite was from the song “Community Property”: “My heart belongs to you/But my c*ck is community property.” I laugh every.single.time.
When I heard that Steel Panther was rolling into town, I figured it was worth checking them out again. After all, they only played about 15 minutes at the Mixtape Festival and they obviously made an impression. I was curious to see if I would enjoy them as much once I knew what their shtick was and when they were presumably performing in front of a less hostile crowd. I lucked out that my friend Randy not only wanted to go – I predicted a Steel Panther show might be a tough sell for most of my friends – but he was able to get us in for free. So the stakes were presumably a lot lower; even if I hated them this time around, I hadn’t spent any money and had just given up a Sunday night of a long weekend. Plus I enjoy nothing more than being “on the list” at a show; that hasn’t happened to me since Phish back when I was in my twenties. I enjoy pretending that I’m someone important. 🙂
We secured our beverages and found a place to watch the show; one of the things that I don’t like about this particular venue is that it is all general admission, which does not really work out for someone like me who is 5 foot nothing and generally enjoys her personal space. I was a little nervous that Randy was going to want to get in the thick of the potentially unruly crowd and was relieved when he accepted my suggestion that we go up on the most uncrowded platform to the left of the stage. From there, we had a pretty good sight line to the stage with a fraction of the people. It also provided us a great vantage point for people watching and believe me, there was plenty to be watched. I had no idea if anyone else in the area had even heard of Steel Panther, let alone wanted to come see them play, but the venue was pretty packed and the audience was definitely enthusiastic. A surprising number of people dressed the part for a hair metal band concert, including a young guy in a big curly wig and a captain’s hat. I amused myself with the notion that he wasn’t actually in costume and that is just how he looks all the time. I imagined him walking into his accounting firm in a suit, that ridiculous hair and that hat. Nothing would have pleased me more if that was actually true.
After an opening band that I paid very little attention to, it was time for Steel Panther to take the stage. I am happy to report that I think I actually enjoyed them more this time around. Because I knew what to look for this time around, I could fully appreciate the band for the performance art that they are. On the one hand, they are a solid hair metal band and sounded great; on the other, they were so exaggerated in their actions and their stage banter that even if they sounded terrible they would have been endlessly amusing to me. Because they had way more time on stage as headliners that they would as an opening act, they got to spend more time talking to the audience in between sets and that really only added to the whole experience. With some artists, you just want them to shut-up and sing, but these guys were legitimately funny and their wisecracking only served to complement the musical experience. The lead singer (Michael Starr) and the lead guitarist (Satchel – great name) had great on stage chemistry and their comedy stylings comprised most of the chit chat between songs.
While they were both great – the drummer (Stix Zadinia) was good too, but he was further back on the stage and more removed from the action – I was completely obsessed with their bass player, Lexxi Foxx. Perhaps it was because he was closest to us on the stage that I paid him the most attention, but I think it was because he committed the most fully to the performance parody that is Steel Panther. In between just about every song, while Starr and Satchel were doing their thing, Lexxi would go over to the side of the stage and adjust his hair or make-up. First it was his lip gloss, then it was a reapplication of hair spray than touching up his eye liner – this continued ad nausea. If this was a regular band I might just chalk this behavior up to extreme narcissism, but given Steel Panther’s pedigree it was obviously all part of the act. Foxx also was great during performing – he dramatically flipped his hair on just about every song that they did. Once I noticed what he was doing, I couldn’t take my eyes off him – his crazy cheek bones were slightly mesmerizing. I hadn’t noticed his shenanigans the first time that I saw them, but now it was pretty much the only thing that I wanted to watch. He was cracking me up.
All in all, the show was a ton of fun. Steel Panther are great performers and they have the musical ability to back up all the other hoopla that goes along with their shows. I may have had pretty low expectations going in but it was a solid show. It’s not often that I laugh as much as I enjoy the music. There was one regrettable moment when one of the young women that they brought on stage flashed the crowd – upon request – but that was mostly because I’m older and wiser and thought of the social media footprint that she left for herself with that one action. I’m really hoping that she was a plant in the audience; I’m not sure how exactly that makes it better, but somehow I just think it does. If you like this genre of music and aren’t easily offended, Steel Panther is definitely worth checking out.