In 2007 they played Earth Day to promote the song “Warmer Than Hell,” which was actually not an environmental call to arms. Nigel’s solution to global warming was to take his jacket off. That day they also brought out 19 bassists for “Big Bottom,” including members of Metallica, Foo Fighters, and Beastie Boys, in an ode to unnecessary excess and power consumption.
While there remain myriad loyal Tap fans after all these years, one wonders what their groupies are like. We saw them in the film but haven’t since. “Tap groupies and Folksmen groupies are equally imaginary, like their idols,” explains McKean. “Metal fans like metal music and are mostly young, or at least, young-in-hair. Folk fans are mostly dead.”
Twenty-five years ago in the summertime, I took two childhood friends (Steve Montagna and Rob Hynes) to see Spinal Tap at the now defunct Channel nightclub in Boston. Funnily enough, that venue later became a strip club, probably populated by hair band has-beens. But anyway, there they were, the (in)glorious Tap in the midst of a limited, secret club tour only announced through local metalshop radio shows.
Both my friends were in on the joke, although Rob had not seen the movie, just heard the music and my endless babbling about it. Opening band August were a real hard rock combo, and blisteringly loud. (Steve hated them and still remembers one of the band member’s wives having brought their baby there with no hearing protection.) Moreso than Steve and I, Rob kept laughing at the insanity of it: Nigel Tufnel proclaiming his amp goes to 11, then sticking his gum under his mic when he needed to sing back-up; “Stonehenge” being played with a mandolin; and the group whipping out three bass guitars for “Big Bottom.” I think Rob ultimately had a better time than we did. That was his first concert, and he’ll never forget it. He remembers more than I do, and I have a good memory.
Perhaps the ingenious part of Tap’s plan that day was that by not making a major gig announcement they created low expectations that were more than fulfilled by the ecstatic, if small, audience. They probably never intended it to be more than a lark.
“It was raining on the stage, wasn’t it?” McKean recalls of that (un)fateful gig. “That club was on the waterfront, and there were holes in the roof. We were onstage with electric instruments. I was thinking of who would be in the obit [the next day]. But let’s not overstate this—we had no [real] fear of electrocution. By the way, Nick Lowe was nearly done in by a wire-and-water incident in the Brinsley Schwarz days, and it revitalized his whole career. I say, bring it.”
Ironically the trio’s ultimate Spinal Tap moment did not come from being in the film or touring as the fictitious band. In fact, it came when they were playing as a different fictitious ensemble.
“In 2001 we toured as Spinal Tap, but at a couple of gigs we opened up for ourselves as the Folksmen, which was on the poster,” reveals McKean. “Then we played at the Beacon a couple of weeks later, and they forgot to say anything about that. So we came on and had the experience of being booed off the stage…so that we could come back on.”
For once, the joke was on them. But only once.
The new album from Spinal Tap, Back From The Dead, hits stores June 16. Catch them at the Beacon Theatre in NYC on May 26. For more info, visit spinaltap.com.