Steel Panther — the collective formerly known as Danger Kitty, Metal Shop, and Metal Skool — has fittingly enough become an institution on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, playing shows at the House of Blues – Los Angeles every Monday night. Fitting because the Strip was once renowned as the Mecca of glam metal, that feather-haired, lycra-clad, difficult-to-take-seriously brand of rock that enjoyed great popularity throughout the 1980s and to which Steel Panther now pays affectionate tribute, albeit with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
At this point Steel Panther themselves would no doubt make a series of double entendres about various places to plant tongues. I listened to the band’s two most recent albums — 2009’s Feel the Steel and 2011’s Balls Out — back-to-back in preparation for the band’s May 7 show, and let me tell you, that’s a lot of dick jokes to absorb in one sitting. The band’s sense of humor is proudly, childishly profane and makes the leap from record to stage fully intact, making a Steel Panther gig as much a comedy show as a rock concert.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. There are two other bands on the bill on this particular Monday night, the first of which, Phil X & the Drills, shares Steel Panther’s Los Angeles roots and party-hearty approach to rock & roll. The power trio plays a combination of original songs peppered with snatches of Hall & Oates’ “Maneater,” The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” and a veritable smorgasbord of Led Zeppelin numbers, creating an overall effect somewhat akin to an analog version of Girl Talk.
Phil X himself sports an impressive falsetto and highly technical yet extremely creative guitar playing, at one point using an iPhone as an electronic bow in an especially deft bit of showmanship. The band’s blistering proficiency and refusal to take themselves seriously — Phil to audience member: “Are you laughing at me? That’s alright, I’m laughing at me too.” — make them the perfect introduction to a night of Hollywood frivolity.
Next is Burbank’s Back Pocket Memory, who, in the interest of full disclosure, are personal friends of mine about whom I have written before on this site. The band has recently completed a stint in the studio recording the follow-up to their 2011 EP, Beneath the Trees, and they debut a couple of new songs tonight. The first of these, “Daylight,” immediately follows opener “All We Have,” while the second, “Hide & Seek,” closes out the set.
In between these two, the band plays a trio of songs from Beneath the Trees — “Greatest Divide,” “Extra, Extra!” and “Shining Light” — that are greeted with rapturous shrieks from the girls in the audience and head bobs from the boys. It would seem that Back Pocket Memory’s fanbase is predominantly female — when singer Chris Pennington invites the audience to sing along, it’s women who apparently know all the words. The band may be feeling out some new material, but you wouldn’t know it from Chris’s tight backing of radio-friendly, post-hardcore courtesy of twin guitarists Ian Felchin and Eddie Rosales, bassist Rob Gallagher, and drummer Jason Montgomery.
Which brings us back to the night’s headliners. After the largely non-comedic interlude provided by Back Pocket Memory, the crowd is primed and ready for some ironic preening and posturing, Steel Panther-style. And boy, do they get it. Curtains are drawn across the stage as the lights dim and the pre-recorded intro “In the Future” — delivered by Dane Cook — from Balls Out booms portentously from the House of Blues’ PA. Then the curtains part and the band launches into “Supersonic Sex Machine” from the same album, rocking and high kicking in unison.
I’ll say this for Steel Panther: they are fully committed to their act of ’80s mimicry. Guitarist Satchel sports a torn spandex top that shows off his sculpted torso whilst bassist Lexxi Foxxx pouts constantly and — judging by his hair — seems to be followed around the stage by his own private wind source. As for singer Michael Starr, in his own words, “I’m not a chubby David Lee Roth, I’m a skinny Vince Neil.” The band tears through “Tomorrow Night,” “Fat Girl,” “Gold-Digging Whore” — it’s perhaps worth stressing at this point that the band’s casual misogyny is, like the rest of their act, delivered with an ironic wink — and a note-perfect rendition of Mötley Crüe’s “Shout at the Devil” before taking a time-out for Foxxx’s “hair solo,” which is exactly what it sounds like.
Then some more covers: Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” — during which the band is joined onstage by 10 girls in various states of exposure — then Van Halen’s “Jump” — now 13 girls — and “You Really Got Me” — now no girls but, in their stead, Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit. (I’m well aware that “You Really Got Me” was originally a song by The Kinks. Steel Panther’s rendition, however, is pure Halen.) The performance features Starr and Durst trading off vocals and the Bizkit frontman executing a not-terribly-successful stage dive into the crowd.
After Durst’s departure, the band plays “Community Property” before Satchel launches into a breathtaking medley of guitar riffage that incorporates Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law,” Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper,” Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” and “Paranoid,” and, somewhat bizarrely, “Do-Re-Mi” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music.
Then it’s “Asian Hooker,” during which the band is joined by two female audience members who are, in Starr’s words, “of the Asian persuasion.” This is followed by “Weenie Ride,” which sees drummer Stix Zadinia abandon his kit for a keyboard synthesizer and comedian Jeffrey Ross take the stage to trade barbed quips with Starr. The set is closed out with Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Night” and the Steel Panther original “17 Girls in a Row.” 14 girls on stage. 16. 17! Having fulfilled this contract with the audience, Steel Panther vacates the House of Blues stage until the next Monday night of ’80s homage and profane stage banter.
More info on Phil X & the Drills
More info on Back Pocket Memory
More info on Steel Panther
Photography by Christine Perez