You know what one of my favorite things is? Showmanship. I love good music, I do. I also love some not-so-good music, and one of the things that can help get past a mediocre band, particularly live, is showmanship. In music, one of the most intriguing things are bands that get into playing dress-up. I don’t mean faux-hawks and artfully ripped jeans. I don’t mean glam-metal mascara and hairspray. I mean bands that do not fuck around, and get into full costume as a part of their act (sometimes even giving themselves ridiculous fake names). It breathes a new life into their act, something that adds more visual to their acumen. It’s sometimes stupid. It’s sometimes misdirection, so you don’t notice how crappy they are. But also, it’s fun.
As a general rule, however, these bands tend to run towards the metal side of the spectrum. I’ll try to make this as balanced as possible, but expect a fair amount of bangin’. Also, before anyone starts to bitch - this is a list of bands that I like. Therefore, Kiss was left off.
So with that in mind, here are my favorite bands that like to play dress-up.
Gwar — Oh, Gwar. You provide endless metal amusement. The irony about Gwar is, despite their horrific prosthetics, including giant spikes, demon faces, armor and freakishly disturbing fake monster phalluses, their music is not really that heavy. But Goddamn if it isn’t fantastically entertaining. Gwar takes themselves deliciously seriously, and with names like Balsac the Jaws of Death and my favorite former member, Sexecutioner. I saw Gwar once in high school, and let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve had a man dressed in a giant spiked helmet and a freaky-monster codpiece vomit fake blood all over you. With their costumes representing some sort of strange post-apocalyptic mutant / Deadite hybrid, they are true entertainers, and their live shows seemmore like deranged musical theater than a concert. It truly is something to be experienced before you die.
Aquabats! — And so I ask you: Does the world really need a ska-synth-pop-punk band that dresses like cut-rate superheroes and claim they’re trying to save the world? I think we can all agree that there are really only two words needed to answer that question. “Fuck” and “Yes”. Like Gwar, the Aquabats! (exclamation point mandatory, thank you very much) often stage silly-ass fake battles during their live performances. They’re certainly not the most talented band in the world, but they are a hell of a lot of fun.
Marilyn Manson — My guiltiest of guilty pleasures. I admit it. I love Marilyn Manson. Their records are hit or miss, but AntiChrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals and The Golden Age of the Grotesque are all standout efforts in the industrial / metal / whatever-the-fuck genres. But I still maintain that Manson (nee Brian Hugh Warner) is a talented musician with a gift for theatrics and drawing attention. He’s also an arrogant, self-aggrandizing twerp, but the man knows how to put on a show. His disturbing affinity for pancake makeup, scary contact lenses, back braces and burlesque, creates a freakish persona that I find endlessly amusing, and has made him the pseudo-king of the goths, as well as a frequent target for fundies with too much time on their hands. And they can rock out pretty intensely, too.
Devo — Devo’s a blast from the past who are far more than their hit, “Whip It.” They’re actually a scathingly intelligent, darkly satirical group with a series of sharp, anti-establishment, anti-consumerist messages that frequently get lost in their goofy-assed getups. But their peculiar brand of New Wave art-pop is smart, interesting and best of all, pretty damned good. On top of that is their penchant for costume, ranging from their trademark flower pot helmets and yellow pseudo-hazmat suits, to wigs and other accoutrement.
“Gates of Steel
Slipknot — Slipknot is an interesting case. A balls-out metalcore band that sometimes (mistakenly) gets tossed in with the awful wave of nu-metal that came in the last ten years, their getups present an unusual situation. They claim that their outfits - matching, nondescript jumpsuit uniforms and demented masks are there to allow less focus on the individuals. As lead singer Corey Taylor said, “It’s our way of becoming more intimate with the music. It’s a way for us to become unconscious of who we are and what we do outside of music.” Unfortunately, I’m calling bullshit. Don’t get me wrong, I like the gimmick. But I believe that it is a gimmick. It’s about drawing people in based initially on your visual style, and I think I’d respect them more if they owned up to that. Regardless, Slipknot has some decent stuff out there.
Goblin Cock — These guys are relatively new to me, as I just saw them a couple of weeks ago and ended up picking up their albums, Bagged and Boarded and Come With Me If You Want To Live. I was actually surprised by how much I liked them. Fronted by Rob Crow of Pinback, they play a weird mix of sword-and-sorcery metal, give themselves names like Bane Ass-Pounder and Larben The Druid, and sing songs about everything from Snuffleupagus to Japanese monster movies. They’re not going to change the world anytime soon, but they’re fun. They’re also very strange. When I was waiting in between sets for them to come on, I noted to someone how odd it was that their roadies wore matching uniforms. Turns out, those weren’t roadies. That was the band, setting up their gear. They then went in back, changed, and came out in full black wizard robes with hoods and cowled faces. To which I say: Awesome.
Daft Punk — Ah, you crazy French bastards! First and foremost: Daft Punk fucking rocks. Their incredibly infectious, brilliantly orchestrated house / electronica is complex and wholly addictive. To keep things interesting, they’re also notorious for rarely giving interviews, and rarely allowing people to see their real faces. For the most part, you’ll see the duo of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo in their jumpsuits and spaceman headgear, and in videos, they’re frequently shown as animated characters, if at all.
“Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes — The Gimmes are simple creatures, really. One of those ubiquitous side project supergroups, the band is made up of members of NOFX, Lagwagon, the Foo Fighters and the Swingin’ Utters. They only play covers, and they usually choose songs that are incongruous with their punk rock stylings. Their outfits change from album to album and show to show, but they’re usually decked out in matching gear that ranges from suits and fezzes, to cheerleader outfits to cowboy getups. Musically, they’re straightforward punk, but the humor is in their style and their choices of songs, which include covers of Cat Stevens, Whitney Houston, The Beach Boys and Barry Manilow.
“I Believe I Can Fly”
Lordi I’m going to let my friend Kelsi take this one, as she’s previously written about them:
In may of 2006, I went to one of the many weekly meetings (budgetary! staffing! special events! employee review!) at the music venue where I was a club manager and the talent buyer pulled me aside and said “oh my god, Kelsi, you have to hear these guys who won the Eurovision contest.” and I was like, “Eurovision contest? double-you tee eff? Also, I am hungover like a bitch.” Because that’s kind of the sort of job that it was. A little google action later, I found out that he was referring to Lordi.
I have always been a bit of a sucker for the show. Now, I may tell you that I’m not such a fan of, oh, say Gwar. or Children of Bodom. or Motorhead. but ask me about the best shows I saw during my tenure at that nightclub, and those are the kinds of names that will come up. And if there’s one thing you can say about Lordi, it’s that they appreciate the finer points of showmanship. So, anyway. in those dark days of 2006, iTunes was like “Lord-who? Finnish you say? Huh. Never heard of them.” So I resorted to some ahemfilesharing and was exposed to some of the most glorious rawk that has ever been. This is not music for lovin’. This is not music for thinkin’. Nor readin’, nor anything else for which you might want a musical backdrop. This is monster rock, and it requires your full attention.
“Would You Love a Monsterman?”
MF Doom, aka Doom, aka King Gheedorah, is a rapper, producer and all-around weirdo. But an immensely talented weirdo. A multi-talented artist with a penchant for psuedonyms and masks based on Marvel Comics villains, he’s been a member of a mess of projects (MadVillain, DangerDoom, King Geedorah to name a few). He gets his rocks off rapping about everything from Adult Swim to homelessness to Godzilla movies. His beats are incredible and his lyrics walk the line between brilliant and insane. For a real head trip, check out DangerDoom, his collaboration with super producer Danger Mouse.
Björk — Don’t even try to tell me Björk doesn’t belong on this list. Sure, playing dress-up may not be her schtick. It may not be a part of her persona in the way that it is for the gentlemen from Gwar. But Björk is fucking insane, people. She attacks reporters. She wore a fucking swan to the Oscars. And those aren’t the weirdest things she’s done! Now musically, Björk is actually rather brilliant. She’s not terribly accessible, musically speaking, but her vocal and songrwriting talents are nothing short of breathtaking. Coupled with her whackadoo fashion sense, Bjork is a force to be reckoned with.
“I’ve Seen It All”
So there you have it — 11 bands who revel in not just the music, but the theatricality of costume. Showmanship, people!
TK can often be found staggering around his back yard, wishing for a zombie attack and shouting at leaves. He studies the dark arts of cheeseburger-making and cultivating the Merciless Pepper of Quetzlzacatenango. He wastes valuable time at Uncooked Meat.
Bands That Like to Play Dress-Up / TK
Music | March 3, 2009 | Comments ()