With Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer. At the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Friday, April 17
I was a little concerned heading into Unwigged & Unplugged on Friday night for an evening of song and merriment from a trio of travelling troubadours. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer, of This Is Spinal Tap fame, were to play a selection of tunes from their oeuvre, sans shaggy-dog hairpieces and foil-wrapped zucchini. This was to be a button-down affair with little fanfare. Just three guys singing songs they wrote as characters for a couple of different flicks.
So when the wretched scalper kept shouting to the throng queued up on Homer Street that he had Row 7 tickets for Spinal Tap, it seemed like false advertising. It didn’t help to see several bewigged yahoos all ramped up and ready to see their favourite rockers in concert. This gig is doomed, I thought.
I was dead wrong. Despite looking like slightly hipper versions of the aging folk singers they parody in A Mighty Wind, the three actors kept the crowd with them through two hours and two encores.
While no performer was particularly mind-blowing on his instrument, they were more than competent as a group. It’s impressive that these three like-minded comedians, all stars in their own right, can also pull off a semi-serious musical career together.
And their show is, despite the hugely understated comic interplay between numbers, still at least partly straight. That is, if you don’t listen to the lyrics. The stolid members showed not one hint of mugging or face-acting. They weren’t all faux self-important, either. They simply played their original tunes as any musician would, regardless of the words flying out of their mouths, as in their heartfelt ode to canines: “I’m gonna chain you / Make you sleep out of doors / You’re so fetching when you’re down on all fours / And when you hear your master / You will come a little faster, thanks to Bitch School.”
But the evening was, as Shearer said, more than just a celebration, or isolation, or quarantining of three songwriters. One video segment featured the first Spinal Tap sketch, from a 1979 appearance on the short-lived ABC-TV series, The T.V. Show. Later, the trio used the screen as a backdrop for spectacular special effects during a performance of the anthemic “Stonehenge”—if dangling a tiny replica and two Troll dolls from strings constitutes spectacular.
A reading from the work of infamous former NBC censor William Clotworthy, an audience giveaway, some local interpretive dance accompanying a jazzy version of “Big Bottom”, and a Q & A rounded out the affair.
Even without the big hair, bondage gear, and amps turned to 11, the three aging gentlemen gave a show to remember.