Spinal Tarp, er, Tap, are the Cher of semi-fictional rock bands. Or in the semi-fictional words of bassist Derek Smalls himself: “If you let the worm grow long enough, it's going to turn. That's what's happened to us.” Spinal Tap formed the '60s, dwindled in the '80s, reunited in 1992, regrouped in 2000, and recently reappeared in 2007 for Live Earth, where they played “Big Bottom” — their ode to more-cushion-for-the-pushin' written before baby ever had back — with a zip code of bassists, including nearly all of Metallica. So it's no surprise that some of us rock journos were invited to a press conference at the House of Blues at the ungodly hour of 11 a.m. on Monday to listen….shhhh….to Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer announce an upcoming album of new and old Tap material, as well as a spring tour commemorating the 25th anniversary release of This Is Spinal Tap.
The Unwigged & Unplugged tour will have Guest, McKean and Shearer perform as Guest, McKean and Shearer (and not Guest, McKean and Shearer as Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls), playing acoustic “anti-Wembley” versions of Tap tunes, in addition to music by the folk trio The Folksmen, the subject of Guest's other 2003 rockumentary, A Mighty Wind. The Folksmen have opened for Tap in the past, but their sets were always mysteriously cut short.
This means no perms, no mullets, no spandex, no pipes, no herpes cold sores, no props, and no new drummer, unless he has a death wish; to date, 32 drummers have perished in bizarre accidents ranging from asphyxiation to spontaneous combustion. “We couldn't afford the insurance,” said McKean. This may also mean no fun. A monster like “Stonehenge” loses all meaning without a miniature tryptic on stage a dancing dwarf can kick around. But hey, these guys are in their '60s, and they just don't have the energy to trash anymore Holiday Inns. “At our age we're gonna hire people to destroy the hotel rooms for us,” said Shearer.
Before the Q&A with the press, Guest, McKean and Shearer performed an acoustic medley of Tap and Folksmen songs, including “Old Joe's Pub,” “Hell Hole” and “Sex Farm.” (The lyrical beauty of “hair as brown as the finest of stews” would make a whore blush.) MTV ghost and paragon of rock news Kurt Loder then took the stage to moderate, asking the threesome if they were tempted to jump on the bandwagon of reunited hair metal bands. “The only temptation is to get to hang out with Yngwie J. Malmsteen again,” said McKean. (Surely you remember 1985's Hear 'N Aid, heavy metal's answer to USA for Africa, which featured Tap.) “And I'm glad he put the J in his name because now we won't confuse him with all the other Yngwie Malmsteens in show business.” I snuck in a question about Anvil: The Story of Anvil. None had seen the very Tap-ian documentary about the Canadian metal band yet, but said they thought Metallica's Some Kind of Monster was one of the funniest movies ever. Whether Guest will perform any of his famous guitar solos –so long in the past, the other two would run back stage for a massage or grab a bite at a restaurant — remains to be seen. But don't worry about the decibel level. They said they're physically incapable of going above eight-and-half (unlike the plugged-in 11).
A stripped down Spinal Tap may not be a fanatic's dream come true. But the three have been at this for nearly 40 years, and watching them trade quips is comedy gold. When Loder asked if they had plans beyond an album and tour, McKean answered, “We're gonna bomb Iran.”
Tour dates are listed on www.unwigged.com. If you're in Cleveland, for God's sake don't show up on time.