by Dan Williams
Philadelphia is the home of Kevin Bacon, the subject of the infamous Hollywood parlor game “Six Degrees of Separation” where anyone in the movie industry could be linked to Bacon within six steps. On Tuesday night at the TLA, we saw a new Philadelphia-based update we’ll call “One Degree of Separation of Cinderella.”
Cinderella was the Multi-Platinum Glam/Rock band that began in Philadelphia in the 1980s, one of the original hair bands. Today, Cinderella’s famed guitarist Jeff LaBar is back on the road with a new album, currently touring the Midwest to rave reviews. LaBar recently received a call from Cinderella’s former manager telling him that his current band, the incredibly popular Glam Rock parody Steel Panther, was in need of an opening act for shows in New York and Philadelphia. The manager needed a last minute recommendation. Enter Philly’s hard rocking MACH22, a power foursome whose lead guitarist happens to be Jeff’s son, Sebastian LaBar. The younger LaBar has also been touring and playing guitar with his dad on his current tour. So on Tuesday night, 1,100+ Steel Panther fans, in a standing room only sold out show at Philadelphia’s TLA, were introduced to the dynamic MACH22.
Before the show, I wandered the photographers’ pit interviewing the fans lined up along the barricade. Many had t-shirts of their favorite metal bands, including Cinderella. A large number of them were completely glammed up with wigs, makeup and jewelry. Eye Liner? Yep! “Ever heard of MACH22?” I asked. Almost nobody. Since I have seen MACH22 perform before, I knew they were in for a big show!
Right at 8:00, the curtain rose and MACH22 launched into “Radio”, the powerful, catchy tune from their new album Sweet Talk Intervention that was produced by Jeff LaBar. Lead singer Lamont Caldwell, owner of an amazing pedigree himself, had the audience captivated from the start. Caldwell is a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist well known in the Philly area for his work with The Roots. He has toured with acts like Erykah Badu, Dave Matthews Band and spent four years on tour with Jay-Z. The guy knows how to grab the audience by the neck and not let go.
The second song, “I’m Just a Man”, showcases the talents of the band and serves as a solo vehicle for each. It begins with the rhythm section…a powerful pounding drum beat announces the song by well-known session man Damian Monte Carlo. A few bars in, he’s joined by hard charging and charismatic Jaron Gulino with his melodic bass riffs. Gulino is the glue that holds the band together. He dashed around the stage playing with each member of the band to keep energy high. He even checks in with tech staff and photographers to keep everyone smiling! Then LaBar fired up a swirling mantra on his Les Paul that floats over the song, except during his very entertaining shredded solos. He gets right out over the audience where it almost looks like he’ll fall into the pit at any time. Anything for the fans! Meanwhile, Caldwell drives the lyrics home with his own style of gyrations, gestures and vocal hysterics. He really brings the pipes! This is one of those bands with no diva or drama. Four equals with amazing talent making up a dynamic whole.
The next songs kept the party rocking. “Go Ahead” followed by their 2012 mid-tempo single “Don’t You Give Me” and the hard driving guitar heavy “Backslider” with its strong full band harmonies countering the lead. At this point, Front Man Caldwell called an audible changing the set list. After seeing all of the Cinderella fans in the audience, the band launched into Cinderella chart topper “Somebody Save Me”. The crowd screamed in recognition and sang every word along with the band. Funny Murphy’s Law moment: Just as the band launched into his Dad’s song, Sebastian’s guitar strap broke. He saw that the Steel Panther guitar technician was in the wings. Out of sight of the crowd, LaBar held his axe steady on the bench, the tech reattached the strap with a new screw and all the while, Sebastian never missed a shredded note!
Everything back to normal and the crowd completely energized, MACH22 dove into “Like My Chances” and then closed with the crowd pleasing Temptations staple “Get Ready”. Everyone sang and danced along with great joy, Rock & Roll Hand Horns were in the air and the fans were still screaming as the curtain came down. The crowd was twice the size of the previous night in NYC and was now nearly hoarse from screaming. Although MACH22 has been together and touring for the last few years playing major shows and festivals like Rocklahoma, each member told me later in the night that this crowd was their most engaged and energized. It was great seeing both the audience and the band giving it up for each other. The party was in full swing!
That was just the warm up.
Right on time at 9:00, the audience let out a powerful scream as they saw the flashlights under the curtain leading the Steel Panther musicians to their spots. As soon as the curtain began to rise, they were treated to the powerful “Pussy Whipped” from their new release. Folks new to Steel Panther might need an advisory notice right about here. They are an extremely talented and road tested foursome performing a throwback parody of ‘80’s Glam / Hair Bands. Each member has created his own persona as an over-the-top representation of such groups. Big shaggy hair wigs, tight multi-colored Spandex pants, lots of boas and scarves, jewelry, makeup and just like their fans that night, boat loads of eye liner and mascara. Their songs are straight out hard Rock & Roll with lyrics teeming with profanity and overt juvenile sex jokes. If anatomical and sexually graphic gestures aren’t in your comfort zone, this is not your band and you may wish to stop reading now. If you have a sense of humor that leans to the bawdy side, these are your guys!
Steel Panther is Michael Starr (Lead Vocals), Satchel (Guitar), Lexxi Foxx (Bass) and Stix Zadinia (Drums). Say the last one out loud and you’ll understand how the rest of the concert went.
Second on the set list was 2011’s “Tomorrow Night” with its sing along chorus, solid guitar solo and Christopher Walken name check. That was followed by 2009’s “Asian Hooker” and 2011’s “Just Like Tiger Woods”. As impressive as they are on vocals and instruments, it’s their ability to stay in character with their stage personae. Stage right is where Lexxi Foxx (Travis Haley off-stage) calls home. Next to his post is a portable makeup table complete with three light bulb rimmed mirrors, giant can of hairspray and various makeup items for regular touch-ups during the performance. One can never have a hair out of place or enough lip gloss! Completing the look, a giant fan blows his long blonde hair as well as any high priced fashion shoot. When not touching up his face, he treats the audience and band members to poses with his sucked in cheeks and puckered lips. Clearly, this is where Zoolander found his inspiration!
Van Halen-like “Eyes of The Panther” from Feel the Steel was followed by “Gangbanging at the Old Folks Home” where geriatric sex was explored in full detail. (You were warned!) “If I Was The King” led into an extended guitar solo by Satchel (Russ Parrish) while Lexxi and Michael took a break. This was Satchel’s time to put all of his guitar shredding mastery on display. Every “Guitar God” pose was struck including exaggerated open mouthed head bobbing and long tongue licking his Fender. It was captivating and spot on!
After a short break and costume change, Michael Starr (Ralph Saenz) came running out wearing a blue spangled cape with white interior … and of course, stars. He danced through “Turn Out The Lights” and “Party Like Tomorrow is the End of the World”. This was followed by “The Stocking Song”, their brand new single and raunchy take on a holiday song. If you long for the classic days of David Lee Roth, Michael’s your guy … right down to the squeal!
Throughout the set, Stix (Darren Leader) kept classic metal beat on his huge elevated kit along with lots of stick pointing to photographers and front row fans. It is about this point where the traditional Steel Panther “Bootie Call” went out asking ladies in the house to show the band what they have on top. It seemed there were a number of folks who came ready to participate. An entire segment of banter between stage and audience took place with proper burlesque drumming in the background.
The concert continued for four more songs and ended almost two hours later with “F*** All Night and Party All Day”. The entire show was videotaped for streaming on Yahoo. The house stayed packed solid with nobody giving an inch of floor space. This is the most passionate type of audience. I’ve experienced all types of houses, but hard rock / metal fans are the most passionate and appreciative. It is very cool to see the connection between an iconic 80’s band influencing one like Steel Panther and then seeing the same audience embrace a new up and coming generation with MACH22.
We may have had one Degree of Separation, but there appears to be no daylight with these fans. All three bands and generations are revered. Pretty cool … But THAT’s Rock & Roll!