In my journalistic career I've written for community newspapers, media monitoring companies and finance newswire providers. It was all fun and I'm glad I've had those experiences, but there are times when I'm super-glad I pursued a career in music journalism instead of reporting on new parking lot dedications, newsreader bloopers or the latest IPO. One such time was recently when I found myself in a penthouse suite rocking out with the mighty Steel Panther.
A contingent of we media folk (including representatives of Noise11, FasterLouder and Heavy) were collected in a stretch Hummer and driven around Melbourne while Steel Panther's brilliant new live DVD British Invasion played on the multiple screens throughout the behemoth vehicle. We were plied with wine, beer and chocolates as we shared journalistic war stories, tips on the best places to eat on Sunset Boulevard, the chaos that is South By Southwest, Rolling Stones gigs, and all that other fun stuff that you just don't get to talk about when you're writing finance news.
After picking up the last of our party, we made a pitstop at a hot dog joint called Massive Wieners - you can pretty much imagine the puns and giggles at this point in the evening - before being dropped off at Steel Panther's hotel to party with them in a penthouse suite. Guitarist Satchel held court with a discussion about the various uses for hair conditioner and his love of Kramer guitars, which we'd previously discussed in an interview in 2011 (which you can read here).
It was great to finally meet him in person after years of having my head torn off by his riffage at Steel Panther shows every NAMM week. Vocalist Michael Starr was wandering around with various attractive ladies and holding court like a gracious host. Drummer Stix Zadinia (who I'd also interviewed a while ago) was hanging about with his gigantic drummer arms. And I had a great chat with bass player Lexxi Foxx about his Kramers - one of which had unfortunately taken a hit during transit and was in need of repairs. He seemed really, really bummed about it. The drink of the evening was fluffy pink marshmallows soaked in champagne. Is there a name for this? I don't know but it was like the flavor equivalent of 80s hair metal, so it definitely fit the theme of the evening!
We then piled into the Hummer again to head to Festival Hall where the real party began. The signs out the front read "Some language and parts of tonight's performance may confront some people. Strong language and sexual references used," and …these signs were probably quite appropriate. I've seen Steel Panther on their home turf - the House of Blues in West Hollywood - several times over the years. Those sets are usually punctuated by covers and special guests (such as Anthrax's Scott Ian). There's always a healthy dose of irony and theatre at a Steel Panther show, but seeing them playing a full set of their own material pushes everything up to - well, I'm not going to say 'eleven' because I hate when people compare Steel Panther to Spinal Tap - but it pushes everything up to stratospheric levels. The stage gestures are bigger. The jokes are dirtier. The guitar solos …bombasticer. Satchel is one of the finest modern-day exponents of 80s-style shred guitar and his unaccompanied spot never disappoints, as he runs through a checklist of great metal riffs from Black Sabbath to Judas Priest. Sometimes he even throws a little Yngwie Malmsteen in there, and jumps behind the drumkit to provide his own accompaniment. It's all total extravagant showmanship, in the best possible way, and theatrics aside it's a great display of modern-meets-‘80s guitar technique.
I had a photo pass, so I got to witness the first three songs from the pit between the stage and the crowd barricade. Festival Hall holds about 6,000 people and Steel Panther sold it out, so the atmosphere was electric. The setlist was split pretty evenly between cuts from Feel The Steel and Balls Out, including Fat Girl (Thar She Blows), The Shocker and Party All Day from the former and Tomorrow Night, Just Like Tiger Woods, If You Really, Really Love Me and 17 Girls In A Row from the latter. And of course Death To All But Metal, one of their oldest originals. But what was played is almost secondary to the attitude and fun with which it was played. For all the filth and flesh (the Steel Panther tradition of bringing ladies up from the audience to dance on stage meant there were probably a few angry boyfriends by the end of the evening and a few uncomfortable car rides home), this was still a good old-fashioned rock and roll show dedicated to the glory of the cranked amp, spandex, melody, flash, neon, lights, smoke, girls and the Hollywood dream.