Eight years ago, while interviewing Harry Shearer in character as Derek Smalls, the (un)esteemed bassist from legendary mock rockers Spinal Tap, I asked if he could address the rumors about them being a fictional band. He cleverly retorted, “Well, what’s a rumor except fiction? So it’s fiction about fiction, in’it? Which means it’s true.” I felt stupid about trying to do a clever interview while he was so clever about sounding stupid.
This month I’m in the midst of interviewing co-star Michael McKean (aka front man David St. Hubbins) and asking him what have been his personal greatest Spinal Tap moments in any artistic forum. McKean cheekily replies, “Albert Hall was fun. Carnegie Hall was fun. Playing in the band is always fun. Does that count as artistic?”
Truth is stranger than fiction, and in some cases it’s a lot funnier, too. Who would have thought that a fictitious group that satirized the testosterone-laden world of heavy metal would not only become beloved by genre critics and fans alike, but that it would produce some of its most memorable tunes and characters and introduce immortal concepts like the “Spinal Tap Moment” and turning it up to 11?
And who’d have guessed that 25 years later Spinal Tap would still be a viable commercial franchise, lasting much longer than most real-life bands? Their music has been used in commercials and video games, their dialogue and lyrics recited by music biz insiders like sacred mantras, and their schtick imitated by modern groups like Metal Skool and Fozzy. Dio even invited them to sing on the heavy metal collective Stars, a benefit for African famine relief, in 1985.
Here we are in 2009, and the core Tap trio of Michael McKean (aka front man David St. Hubbins), Harry Shearer (aka bassist Derek Smalls), and Christopher Guest (aka guitarist Nigel Tufnel) have released two albums and a few singles, toured the country several times in character over the last 25 years, and are back on the road for the Unwigged & Unplugged tour, playing the Beacon Theatre for two nights, May 26 and 27.
The twist this time is that McKean, Shearer, and Guest are on the road as themselves, middle-aged men performing highly revered tunes from This Is Spinal Tap, as well as the acclaimed Christopher Guest comedies, A Mighty Wind and Waiting For Guffman. “We have grown accustomed to being behind their faces,” admits McKean of their Tap personas. “The characters take over and we get a few hours off from being ourselves.”
This time there are no long locks to hide under or quirky characters to play between the songs. The dressed-down trio are serving up tunes from satirical films about rock (Spinal Tap), folk (A Mighty Wind), and musical theater (Waiting For Guffman). They are also reportedly doing a folk rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” that is a hoot. (For the record, a one-off, dressed-up Spinal Tap reunion show will occur at London’s Wembley Arena next month.)
What else can fans expect from the Unwigged tour? “Some odd found objects: Early clips, fan videos, dramatic readings of censor’s notes, and a fine documentary on a cheese festival,” quips McKean.