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Steel Panther @ The Key Club, Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles - 23rd August 2010

Review by Jason Guest
Photos by Samantha Knight

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Need I wax lyrical (or drivel on endlessly) about the history of Sunset Strip? From The Doors’ incendiary and controversial performances at the Whiskeyagogo in the 60s to the stories of unparalleled debauchery that surrounded (and threatened to overshadow the music of) the 80’s rock scene, sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll have long been stitched into the face of this place, defiantly staring down the puritan haters of their mandatory hedonistic lifestyles. Where better, then, than to see the self-referential piss-take/homage to all-things 80s hair metal that is Steel Panther?

Two nights prior to this gig, the Whiskeyagogo (how about that for a name drop?) had a line-up of no less than eight bands. The line up was a muddled mix of pop, punk (the ‘nice’ type), rock (the ‘nice’ type), and metal (the ‘nice’ type) bands. With Jim Morrison’s mug on the wall (an oversized Jack Daniels bottle placed nearby) beneath a beer advert with Motley Crue’s name emblazoned in huge letters across it, the Whiskey failed to live up to its legend. It was a Saturday night and there was not one band that appeared a serious threat. If the quality of the bands witnessed here are anything to go by, rock has taken a turn for the sanitized. As gigs go, it was the chocolate laxative of gigs. It was like beer without alcohol, coffee without caffeine, rock ‘n roll without debauchery, attitude, or substance (corporeal or criminal). And to top it all off, the security guards parade around ensuring that everyone downstairs stays within the lines that demarcate the dance floor! What the…? Health and Safety directives at a rock show? Rock isn’t what it once was. I suppose that the billboards on the Strip with Slash and Ozzy both proclaiming that “This is my town” says it all: those that were once reviled are now revered (and sober) and held aloft as ambassadors.

One band worthy of mention was made up of four teens emulating the entire 80s LA hair rock scene called Skarlet. Yep, they spell it with a ‘k’! They must be rock! They dressed, moved, played, and sang like every 80s hair metal band you ever YouTubed. The singer was a diminutive Axl Rose but minus the fat chin and arsehole attitude. The guitarist had his guitar slung lower than Slash could possibly dream. The drummer would’ve made Tommy Lee proud. And sight of sights, the bassist was smaller than his bass! The crowd loved ‘em. Even their parents – clapping, singing and dancing in that embarrassing way that parents do – approved. Give these School of Rock kids a listen.

Anyway, back to the Key Club. Before being allowed into the main auditorium, the audience are ushered downstairs to a bar to witness a stream of instantly forgettable bands who, as witnessed at the Whiskey, practically boot the previous band off as soon as they’d finished their stab at fifteen minutes of fame somewhere beneath the oh-so-revered Sunset Strip. Well, at least the bands have that box ticked. One or two beers later and we are allowed upstairs. The VIP areas on both sides of the venue are closed off and invite much speculation about who of LA’s many famous faces – botoxed, botched or natural (should that still exist) – will be joining us this evening.

First band of the night are Lovesick Radio, a radio-friendly indie rock unit with songs consciously crafted for American radio: clean riffs, big catchy choruses, melodic vocals, and annoyingly whiny lyrics. Live, they’ve got the poses and the moves, y’know, all the clichés that you’ve seen in rock videos for decades. The bassist appears determined to make his crotch touch the floor as his legs get further and further apart in his rock ’n roll stance. The guitarist runs back and forth, stomping all over his effects box, and thrusting his guitar/penis out into the audience. The drummer seems intent on piercing the ceiling with his sticks, perpetually raising them, even throwing them skyward while he’s playing his over-simplified rock beats. And the singer struts, postures, bounces, and gets his hand stuck in his pocket too many times for it to be a convincingly symbolic gesture that signifies his own ineptitude in the seemingly endless string of failed relationships he is determined to whine about tonight. Maybe there’s a huge ‘L’ in his pocket that belongs on his forehead? Who knows…or cares? I suppose the band name says it all. Not an impressive start to the evening methinks…

But O! Thank the maker for the next band: Butcher Babies. Guitar, bass, drums –three of ‘em black clad and more tattoos than flesh. Looks promising. Maybe some feckin’ attitude at last! No sign of a vocalist yet though. Soundcheck done, the lights go down, the music starts – pounding drum beats and a heavy punk metal riff – and on to the stage from either side storm two near-naked girls, one blonde, the other black haired, in black thigh boots, torn fishnet stockings, PVC panties, chains on silver-studded belts, and white blood-stained butcher aprons. Shocked? Alice Cooper would have shit himself at this sight.

A cross between Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, Alice Cooper and Wendy O. Williams, with a healthy dose of punk rock attitude spat into the mix, Butcher Babies’ set brings back the decadence that the likes of Motley Crue and G ‘n R thrust down the throat of the Strip in the 80s. The spectacle of two clearly mental, maybe even psychopathic women masturbating their microphones, rubbing their crotches with a severed head, throwing around a beaten up and disfigured baby doll, screaming banshee-like in each other’s and the audience’s face, and tearing at each other’s lingerie (the aprons have long since disappeared) is enough to hold any audience’s attention – male or female – for at least, oh, one song. A novelty act? Nope. Too easy. The novelty wears off pretty quick. And that’s when the songs come to the fore. The shock of the visual bleeds through the songs and into a sexually aggressive performance that leaves an indelible mark on the retinas as well as on the eardrums: shock rock with balls, so to speak. And love, blood and baby guts, according to their Facebook page, they’ll be in the UK in 2011. Check ‘em.

Right, now you’ve finished “looking” at the photos of Butcher Babies, let’s move on to the band of the night, Steel Panther. According to some of the locals I spoke to, their Monday night residency at The Key Club packs the place out week after week, and a lot of the audience return time and again for the show. Cabaret, homage, parody and satire all in one, the Steel Panther show is fun from beginning to end. Before they sashay spandex-like on to the stage, an MC takes the “boob cam” for a walk back and forth across the front of the stage in the hope of enticing one of the girls to reveal all and be projected on to the huge screen above the stage. Twenty minutes (!) later and boobless, he gives up, thankfully. Talk about tiresome. To say he was milking it would be an understatement (and a god-awful pun that only the purest of heart could resist).
Finally, the curtains part and the Panthers appear. They open with Motley Crue’s ‘Kickstart My Heart’ followed by Poison’s ‘Talk Dirty to Me’. ‘Asian Hooker’ gets a blast, as does ‘Fat Girl (Thar She Blows)’, and ‘Community Property’. Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ is introduced by guitarist Satchel saying that singer Michael Starr should join Van Halen because he looks like a fat David Lee Roth. “I don’t look like a fat David Lee Roth,” he retorts, “I look like a thin Vince Neil!’ They’ve got the spandex, the lingerie, the makeup (constantly checked in a hand-held mirror by bassist Lexxi Foxxx), the head bands, and the pouts. Theatrics? Yeah, they’ve got that too. For his (very impressive) solo, Satchel is strapped up and flies over the crowd, gracefully flapping his arms like wings as he hovers in guitarist heaven. The show is a riot and we’re laughing from start to finish.

The audience become part of the show as they drag girls up on stage. When they ask where they’re from, they counter with “Italy? Y’know what that means? She’s from Mexico.” Laughs. “Y’know what that means? She’ll have sex with you and then clean your apartment.” One girl that gets dragged up crowd surfs all the way to the back of the room and back to the stage, flashes her boobs and jumps back into the crowd. Her reward? Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ is dedicated to her. A geek in big glasses, a bow tie, thin jeans, and loooong shoes – by far the looking-out-of-placest guy here – is dragged up and pulls off the coolest dance moves ever! For G ‘n R’s ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’, they bring up on stage a 16 year old guy, Jacob, who is so thin he’d put a supermodel to shame. He sings the song and when it comes to the solo he wraps his arms around Satchel and plays the solo note perfect! The audience goes wild!

With the audience suitably plundered for fall guys and girls, it’s open season on the VIP section. Out of the mists and mystery, Joey Fatone of N Sync (I Googled his name, honest) is dragged up to duet on ‘Girl from Oklahoma’. And for the set closer – Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ – Kelly Osbourne is dragged up to sing. But when she protests – predictably – that her Dad is now effectively their boss (they’re playing Ozzfest) she gets it.

Joey Fratone clip on YouTube:
Kelly Osbourne clip on YouTube:
Whether you think them puerile or piss-take, as shows go, Steel Panther is entertainment from start to finish. The face of LA and the Strip has long been sagging and the stitches have been coming loose for a long time. No cosmetic surgeon, no matter how skilled, can return any client to their youth. Nor can they cover up the truth. Steel Panther know this. And quoting from all the right sources, they tear away at the stitches and give the crowd a side-splitting night. I’m still laughing now!