Guest Written by Brett Parmenter
It is now even closer to All Hallow’s Eve than my previous grumbling about the kids these days and their pretty faces. The holiday is a moot point, however, because the real horror show will happen (for me) sometime in November, when I continue my apparently annual tradition of losing my lunch at a Gwar show just days before Thanksgiving dinner. Things do not get much better: the costumes, the guts, the video clips, the stage banter, and the epic storyline of the Scumdogs of the Universe.
I guess there is the music, too.
As someone whose favorite band is Motorhead, I have a great deal of respect for bands that are capable to convey life’s truths – as ugly as they can be, warts and all – with brutal honesty. However, I am also just as much a fan of those who can help me escape from all of those truths and lump me into the thick of a rock’n’roll fantasy. (A real one, with war and robots and pirates. Go back to bed, Bad Company.) It really boils down to whether or not the bands are capable of keeping the illusion maintained, and not screw things up to take you out of it all.
If you had asked me if I was a Gwar fan when they first started, I would have just rolled my eyes and gotten on my soapbox about how the masks and gimmick do not excuse the noise pollution they are pumping out as a vessel for their charade. (I know this because I said very similar things about Slipknot and Mudvayne when I was in highschool.) The costumes were as shoddy and undeveloped as the music itself. Fortunately – and very gradually – the band reached a point where their music was actually worth listening to; for the majority of their 25 years, the band has put on shows that would be in anyone’s Top Five Most Memorable Concerts. It has only been in recent times, however – the past decade, to be more precise – that the band’s jokes and talent have been able to stand on their own solely in audio form. I guess for some bands – or space god-pirates who have recently conquered Hell and have finally left Antarctica for their home planet – it takes almost three decades to finally perfect all aspects of their craft.
Other bands – some much younger than everyone’s favorite, Scumdogs – have managed to walk the line between style, substance, and the music that encompasses it all. One of these bands is The Protomen, a Nashville-based, multi-music-major-member act that retells the story of Dr. Thomas Light and the Mega Man franchise in a way Capcom couldn’t possibly fabricate (but hopefully support and license). The band’s style ranges from Meat Loaf’s children singing over Ennio Morricone and A-Ha to the prodigal progenies of Nervous Grounds. All this while telling the story of a video game character better than the dozens of games in which said character has appeared. It helps that the band is as in character as Gwar when they are online and offstage, creating their own little world for them and their fans. Unlike Gwar, however, the band takes their music very seriously; other than the indirect, fan-fueled joke involving vocalist Raul Panther’s remorseful cry for Dr. Light’s lover, “Emily…”, the band’s concepts and compositions are proof that these MTSU veterans are sincere and take their craft very seriously. Perhaps too seriously for a story involving hand cannons, but sincerely all the same.
Basing a band’s whole persona, and in turn a career on a gag can be a dangerous thing. There isn’t much leeway for bands that want to be stuck in the middle, fluctuating between costumes and t-shirts. Whether you want to make the fans laugh, cheer or both, you are going to have to go all out with it. No joke.