BY JOEY PANGILINAN
Macaulay Culkin and his Pizza Underground visited San Francisco to perform back-to-back shows at Neck of the Woods in the Richmond District. A buzzing sense of pre-show anticipation eventually morphed into a show just as messy as a heap of leftovers and discarded pizza boxes. Was there any reason to expect an artistic or thought-provoking performance? It’s a possibility when you factor in the inclusion of New York based musicians Phoebe Kreutz, Matt Colbourn, and Deenah Vollmer as other members of the band. But then again, that wasn’t necessarily their aim. So instead of looking at Pizza Underground’s performance in terms of any sort of music technical ability, let’s focus on the entertainment value at the surface. Aside from B-movie action flicks or bad reality television, there is another form of entertainment that people only take at surface value to this degree: pro-wrestling.
Consider this: a good pro-wrestling show, though ripe with spectacle and theatrics, will still somehow display enough substance to the material that will make you forget that it’s all scripted. That ability to capture an audience’s imagination is the beauty of what wrestlers do.
In pro-wrestling, a grappler has to develop some sort of “gimmick” as a way to get a crowd to cheer for them as the good guy, or to boo them as the bad guy. In either case, when a wrestler establishes enough groundswell as either one, that means the wrestler is “over.” Quite obviously, the Pizza Undergrounds’s gimmick is performing Velvet Underground covers with a pizza-themed twist, and as their viral popularity on the internet would suggest, the Pizza Underground is “over.”
Take Dr. Isaac Yankeem D.D.S.–a villainous dentist that takes joy in inflicting pain on his opponents and patients alike, complete with bad dentistry puns during interviews to boot. An interesting concept on paper (and at some point, all gimmicks sound great on paper), but the novelty soon wore off, and audiences saw right through the mad-dentist gimmick. Soon enough, the Yankeem character was pulled entirely. Quite simply, audiences weren’t buying what was trying to be sold to them. (If you’re curious, that wrestler came up with a more successful moniker a few years later as this guy)
The same can be applied to Culkin and company’s performance, as there was just no getting past the gimmick. Near the close of the performance, the band trotted out someone dressed in a cardigan, big sunglasses, and blonde wig, all to fit his guise as Kurt Cobain, or rather, Kurt Cobain’d. He sang an acoustic medley of Nirvana covers and dubbed it as “Nevermound.” This portion of the night bordered on offensive; the act stretched the band’s gimmick to a point that it felt like the crowd’s intelligence was being insulted (or at least mine), and came off as inauthentic. Many saw through the gimmick at other points during this performance, especially when one band member began playing percussion by beating a drumstick on an empty pizza box, while others probably saw through the gimmick when the Pizza Underground first released their music. Once the Pizza Underground came back on stage to close out the show with “All the Pizza Parties/Pizza Gal” and “Take A Bite of the Wild Slice,” the appeal of the pizza gimmick had dulled and vanished.
The Pizza Underground piqued people’s interest because the gimmick is pretty amusing, if not absurd. In turn, the absurdity of their gimmick is what makes them a spectacle, which essentially is what drew enough people to come out in mass, and afforded the band the ability to sell out two shows on the same night. For better or worse, the pure absurdity that we expected was exactly what we got at Neck of the Woods.
Unfortunately, not all gimmicks turn out to be so great. The reason why some pro-wrestling gimmicks don’t work out is the same reason why the Pizza Underground fell flat in a live setting is obvious: there’s nothing for an audience to relate to beyond what’s presented just on the surface.
Any form of entertainment, not just pro-wrestling, is deemed as good because it is able to capture an audience’s imagination. Instead of getting lost in the Pizza Underground’s performance, the crowd mostly just stood there, with a very surreal sense of self-awareness watching a band cover Velvet Underground and Lou Reed songs with pizza themed lyrics. The worst thing that a wrestler can do in front of an audience is to make you not care about who they are, and what they are doing. While the Pizza Underground was able to get the audience to sing-a-long at points, the crowd was never really on the same page with them. In general, the whole performance was not cohesive, and in the end, it was more uninspired than it was entertaining.
Additional Comments by Attending Eventseeker Staff:
“It was a pretty rough night. The leaking ceilings in the dank and crowded room. The lingering smell of rain, sweat, and PBR. All in all it was a memorable night worth $12.”
“Opener #1, the Karate Kid & Co. took to the stage. This was not the real band name, but it might as well have been. They started the first pizza-less hour off with generic rock that the audience optimistically bounced along to for the first 10 minutes before coming to their senses and staring blankly ahead.
Opener #2 came on with a guitar strapped to his chest and a repertoire of monotone lullabies that would have put everyone to sleep if it wasn’t completely flabbergasting how wide and stiff this guy could open his mouth.
By this point I’m convinced that The Pizza Underground made the crowd suffer through all this dribble so that they would seem really great. And honestly, it worked on me. I was so desperate for some entertainment by this point that the sound of anything remotely related to The Velvet Underground was a godsend.
The band was no more or less impressive than the video series they initially released of this project, and overall I can respect the humor of what they have done. It seemed to me that they were not trying to be musical geniuses or rock stars, just a group of friends who made a silly project that blew up online and are having some good fun touring around and reaping the benefits of this craze.”
“I left after three songs. The best part of the show was my beer.”
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