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Spinal Taps' comedic genius

Unwigged & Unplugged
Riverside Theatre
Milwaukee, WI
May 31, 2009
Unwigged & Unplugged Unwigged & Unplugged

Story by Brett Taylor
Publicity Photos

Keeping all of the characters that he is portraying together in his head, Harry Shearer looked to the ceiling of the Riverside Theatre, thought for a second and said "well we're not really covering this, rather the Folksmen are." At that point the trio better known as Spinal Tap went on to blaze through a hilarious folk version of the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up." At my count, musician/comedians Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, and Christopher Guest performed songs from over five fictitious groups on Sunday night in Milwaukee. This is the kind of schizophrenia that the band billed as "Unwigged and Unplugged" must keep together throughout each performance. Regardless, transitions between groups remained unfazed, and were kept together by the solidarity of the subtle comedy.

Who would have imagined that 25 years later, we would still care about the music and release of Rob Reiner's "mockumentary" film: "This is Spinal Tap," following an aging washed up British heavy metal band on a tour of the United States. The movie has become a cult classic and inspired many fan sites, and an obsessive following. The act is now celebrating the musical legacy that this initial release has allowed them to continue through other Guest directed "mockumentaries" such as "Waiting For Guffman," and the folk music spoof, "A Mighty Wind."

Onstage, Guest, McKean, and Shearer appear as themselves, not the long haired metal dudes from the movie, hence the "Unwigged" billing. This allows them to step from behind the characters in the fictional "Spinal Tap," and "A Mighty Wind's Folksmen." By offering up simple acoustic arrangements of the bombastic metal numbers such as "Bitch School," "Hell Hole" and the classic "Big Bottom" the absurdity of these parodies is highlighted to a new level. The Folksmen arrangements were largely unchanged from the movie and at points felt as if we were in some surreal movie set, clapping along with the songs. The musicianship of the group is terrific, highlighted by McKean and Guest's strong guitar work, and held down by Shearer's solid bass work and low register vocals.

The show was done almost Storytellers style, allowing for the group to reminisce on how each song was written, or tell stories remembering the films they represented. Displayed on backdrop, multimedia presentations allowed for some additional comedy bits. One filmed piece was a hilarious Scandinavian cheese rolling festival short, which served as the original trailer to "This Is Spinal Tap." Another highlight was the read-through of the original notes from NBC's standards and practices department for the original airing of the film on network television. Fan participation was also a part of the show, by both offering fan made videos from You-Tube, and a brief question and answer session by audience members at the theatre.

The "Unwigged" show allowed audiences to see the comedic genius of Guest, McKean and Shearer stripped down without all of the production of a full Spinal Tap concert. Fans wanting the full show will have to wait for a one off Spinal Tap reunion show in London later this month. If you missed the show, no worry, as Milwaukee's beautiful Riverside Theater was the host for the group to film the performance for an upcoming DVD release. I would recommend it.
Unwigged & Unplugged Spinal Tap
Spinal Tap

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