When The Spinal Tap performed Monday night at Carnegie Hall, it was as if the thirty-four-year-old British heavy metal band was playing for the first time in three days.
With the three founding Spinal Tap members – David St. Hubbins, on guitar and vocals; Nigel Tufnel, on lead guitar; and Derek Smalls, on bass – Spinal Tap played “Carnegie ‘Fucking’ Hall” as if they were the same band they have always been. And yet with accompaniment by longtime keyboardist Caucasian Jeffrey Vaston, and with Skippy Skuffelton accepting the suicide mission of drums, Spinal Tap actually are still the same band they have always been – only with an old keyboardist and a new drummer.
Mr. St. Hubbins began the concert by stating “Dale Carnegie must be spinning in his grave.” The eighteen-song and three-encore rock show which ensued barely lasted long enough to cover all but two songs from the band’s 1982 release Smell the Glove and all but four songs from the band’s release Break Like the Wind, which came out a decade later.
The set started at the top with the promise “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight” and ended down below with a full-blown finale treatment of “Big Bottom.” In between, a rare collision occurred. The unshakable foundations of music history’s past caught a privileged glimpse into its future, and they lingered together in the midst of their irrepressible present. And then they exploded like so many drummers into a million impossible pieces.
Spinal Tap can be credited with introducing mini-men to the stage long before Kid Rock featured Joe C; this show included two appearances of two little guys, first as Druids during the epic “Stonehenge” and later as Satan’s elves during “Christmas With the Devil.” Before Limp Bizkit spent exorbitant amounts of money to build outrageously elaborate stage sets, Spinal Tap revealed an unparalleled eye for design in “Stonehenge” replicas, one of which was presented as the song was played. Contrary to popular belief and academic studies, the female posterior was not discovered by Sisqo or Sir Mix-a-Lot, but by three big-bottom-lovin’ Sixties rock stars. Metallica’s all-black album cover didn’t merely steal its name from a Prince release – it almost exactly copied the intricate style of Smell the Glove.
Regardless of the injustice that is lack of due credit, Spinal Tap are not a band who thrive on bitterness. To prove it, the band was happy to bring to the stage several up-and-coming unknowns, including a keyboardist named Paul Shaffer (who bears a striking resemblance to Tap’s American label representative, Artie Fufkin) for “Short and Sweet,” and fledgling guitarist Elvis Costello, whose lead vocals on “Gimme Some Money” were marked with the heartfelt urgency of an obviously starving artist. Unfortunately, the band’s generosity was at its own expense, as these newbies were no match for the masters, irreparably altering the band’s collective energy.
As if the incompetence of unskilled guest musicianship were not enough, the venue’s acoustics hardly did justice to the band’s eclectic endeavors. Interludes like Mr. Tufnel’s brief conch-like bellow on the didgeridoo on “Clam Caravan” or his homage to the minuet from Boccherini’s “String Quintet in E Major” that occurred during “Heavy Duty” made it clear that classical and world music are delicacies for which Carnegie Hall was simply not equipped. There was also the horned-up funk of “Sex Farm,” which spotlighted the budding talents of Randy and Michael Brecker.
When the band played their first hit, “(Listen to the) Flower People,” they embraced their roots that tie back to the evening’s opening act, the Folksmen – a Kingston Trio-style trio that not only influenced Spinal Tap’s early sound, but could be identical twins with Mr. Hubbins, Mr. Tufnel and Mr. Smalls. The Folksmen had to cut their set short just after two songs, including the most Puritanical interpretation of the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” ever played.
The “Big Bottom” finale showed The Tap as being the influential elder statesmen that the Folksmen once were for them, as several other less experienced guests, including Hiram Bullock, on guitar, Will Lee, on bass, Howard Johnson, on tuba, and numerous scantily clad females joined them on stage to wax (philosophical about) the booty.
Modern music, it is clear, owes a great debt to the Spinal Tap… and if this is what a shit sandwich tastes like, then seconds are in certainly in order.
Note: The author accepts Spinal Tap’s myth as reality, and thus her review goes up to eleven.