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Concert Reviews:
Comic Trio Unplugs Spinal Tap And More At Fox Theatre

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Saturday, May 30, 2009

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DETROIT -- The sedate staging, acoustic instruments and opulent surroundings of the Fox Theatre lent the feel of a serious musical enterprise on Friday night (May 29).

That was until Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer hit the stage. Then it was just seriously funny.

Rest assured their two-hour "Unwigged & Unplugged" show was meant to be that way. Amidst a wide array of credits from stage, (large and small) screen and recording, the trio has created two iconic faux bands -- the heavy metal prototype Spinal Tap and the less well-known but equally well-rendered Folksmen from Guest's 2003 mockumentary "A Mighty Wind." They've been convincing in both roles and come up with music good -- or at least realistic -- enough to give those groups lives of their own.

And on Friday they put another twist on the myths.

The "Unplugged" format was, of course, more in keeping with the Folksmen than Spinal Tap, but it was the latter's songs -- from the film "This is Spinal Tap" and the albums "Break Like the Wind" and the upcoming "Back From the Dead" -- that became even funnier in the acoustic setting. Suffice to say that the likes of "Hell Hole," "Bitch School," "Gimme Some Money," a funked-up "Sex Farm" and the epic "Stonehenge" were that much more (pleasingly) ridiculous, while you've likely never imagined the derriere homage "Big Bottom" done as a finger-snapping beatnik jazz piece complete with interpretive dancer.

Guest, McKean and Shearer -- along with Michigan-born "Back From the Dead" producer CJ Vanson on keyboards and McKean's wife Annette O'Toole on a couple of numbers -- certainly played everything with aplomb and genuine vocal and instrumental skill. Guest recreated a few of Spinal Tap guitarist Nigel Tufnel's trademark grimaces during his solo, and McKean and O'Toole even smooched at the end of the Oscar-nominated "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow," just as characters Mitch & Mickey did in the film. The troupe turned the pre-Tap song "All the Way Home" into a winning skiffle with McKean on harmonica, while Shearer poked fun at Elvis Presley's demise on "All Backed Up" from his Grammy-nominated 2008 album, "Songs of the Bushmen."

The trio also brought out a few bonuses during the "Unwigged & Unplugged" set. While a late-show Q&A session with the crowd was a bit silly, it was a hoot to see the first Spinal Tap performance -- in July of 1979 for "This is Spinal Tap" director Rob Reiner's short-lived ABC series "The TV Show" -- and a then child-actor Shearer's appearance alongside Richard Burton in the 1953 film "The Robe." Fan-made videos for the Tap songs "Back From the Dead" and "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight," the latter done with Leg-Os, were also winning interludes.

But nothing was quite as funny as the trio's dramatic reading of a memo from NBC's Standards & Practices, outlining the many portions of "This is Spinal Tap" that were unfit for broadcast -- even in "Saturday Night Live's" usual late-night time slot.

Guest, McKean and Shearer will be wigged and plugged-in again as Spinal Tap brings "Back From the Dead" out on June 16. But on Friday they demonstrated that neither Tap nor the Folksmen need the trappings or the lights, cameras and action to still be fabulously farcical.

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