Thursday, June 13, 2013
Friday, May 31, 2013
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Monday, May 20, 2013
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Props Dept, Part 2
Tiggr's true genius is revealed when he produces his masterpiece, the Velourabeast, inspired by our "song" "Velour." A prop inspired by a novelty song -- why hadn't anyone thought of that before? Two essential elements of rock and roll in one nutritionally worthless package, like a Reese's cup of pop culture. Like many of our songs, "Velour" is becoming a focus of frenzy and fanaticism among some of the less-stable members of our crowd. A song about those brutally ugly shirts we wore in high school? Yes! The idea that when you feel your sexiest you are also at your most ridiculous is one of our more meaningful discoveries. It doesn't appear to us to be a contradiction at all. Sexy, like rock and roll, is stupid. The three of them, in fact, Sexy, Stupid, and Rock, are just different sides of the same big phallus-shaped monument.
So our song, "Velour," just a riff and a word, basically a less-literate version of "Tequila," if that's possible, is a big hit. One of our sicker fans sends us a genuine velour shirt from his closet. Later in time velour, like everything else, will be revived and mined for cash by the mainstream fashion industry, but at the time this gift is a real oddity, a real find. A treasure. So we give it away at our next show. It inspires an on-stage dance contest, the kids trying to mimic Skipper's spastic squirming as he shows the crowd how velour made him feel as a horny adolescent. That was fun, right? Let's do it again!
We need a new shirt, though, so GT hits the thrifts and buys up a dozen or so atrocious unwanted velour shirts, a smelly pile of tacky garments with zipper fronts and wide elastic cuffs, in noxious shades of orange and green. The pile is so old and jizzed-on that it makes the inside of our van smell like a mushroom cellar. No one in their right mind would ever want one of these, unless there was a story to go along with it. So that's what we give them, the story of the great herds of wild Velourabeasts that in days past roamed the American West, huge animals, "like a buffalo, only in worse taste," their valuable pelts the texture and color of the velour shirts they inspired. the whole ridiculous tale takes several minutes to deliver, with the band vamping ineptly in the background, and only about half of the maniacs packing the clubs know what the hell the singer's talking about up there. But a bit's a bit, and THEE NDI never let the music get in the way of the props and the jokes.
Then one night, as we are loading in to a club in Chicago, Tiggr walks in carrying something draped in red velvet. It's BIG, he can barely walk with it, and he sets it down in front of the stage with a thump and gives us a shit-eating grin. He pulls an extension cord out from under the drape and plugs it in. By now we know what this dude is capable of, but nothing prepares us for the unveiling, a dramatic swoop of the cover that reveals... what. What is it? A giant plush head, a kind of a bull-like thing, with googly glass eyes and a wide mouth full of nasty teeth. It's mounted like a trophy on a hunk of 3/4'' plywood, and Tiggr props it up, and hits a foot switch, and the thing comes alive -- holy fuck, look at this! The eyes light up and push in and out of the sockets, insane and glowing red, and the jaw drops open, revealing rows of sharp teeth, gleaming fangs. Tiggr hits another switch and there's a rasping sound and fog comes rolling out of the thing's gaping mouth. All three of us look up at Tiggr, who is so happy he can barely stand up straight. "It's a Velourabeast!" he says. "I made it in shop!"
That night we have the monster on the wall behind us, draped until the crucial moment when I get to a point in the story and the band grinds to a halt and I say, "and the Velourabeast... Came! Back! To! LIIIIIFE!" And GT pulls off the cover and Skipper stomps the switches and the monster springs into action and I'm watching the crowd's faces and it's that look we will soon learn to expect, that slack-jawed hillbilly look, simple life-forms confronted with the unexplainable, baffled brains stopped for a moment in their tracks. Fog pours from the beast onto the stage and in the relative quiet you can hear the gears grinding and the hinges creaking as the big jaw raises and lowers. It's not like the crowd thinks it's real, at least not most of them, but there's a kind of drunken, hushed appreciation for our effort. Who on earth puts this much effort into something this pointless? Thee NDI, that's who. The monster wheezes and thumps, the fog billows out with a hiss, and and we have never been prouder to be in a fucking prop band.
Friday, April 27, 2012
We are coming to a critical juncture in the evolution of our art, and the question demands to be answered: Is it enough to just dump a trunk-load of stuffed animals and used toxic waste containers onto the floor and wade through it for an hour and a half, pounding out rock power genius? Yes, absolutely, but looking at things from a cock-eyed and probably slightly drunk point of view, we see how it could be better. For one thing, why do bands always have their amps and speakers in neat little stacks? We take nothing for granted. I have a nice set-up, a battered Fender Bassman 50 through a 4 x 10 Marshall stack, with a Ratt pedal supplying the distortion (but don't ask me about it, because Pigtail has no idea what any of those brand names mean or what those knobs do). It sounds pretty heavy, but it looks stupid and obvious, sitting there on the stage like everyone else's gear. So we start tilting. A small working television goes under one corner of the speaker cabinet, lifting it at roughly a 45 degree angle. Great! But now the amp head is sliding off. So we attach a good-sized mars light, a twirly red deal like they have on the police cars in The Andy Griffith Show, to the downhill end of the top, and prop the amp head on that. Cool, but now the top of the amp head is on an angle in the opposite direction. We could leave it like that, but I want to add a big old hollowed-out TV on top. So a life-sized Barbie head, put sideways, brings things more or less level. The big empty TV is filled with rotating lights and other odds and ends -- pretty distracting! On top of that goes a beer case box, sturdy cardboard, with the word "CLAP" cut out of the front and a blinking colored light inside. The entire mess is well over six feet tall, bright as a Christmas tree, and murderously unstable. It tends to collapse during moments of high excitement. Kind of like Skipper. Speaking of Skipper, his rig gets more or less the same treatment, only his beer box sign says "FUN."
Goodtime's kit is another story. He can fix or improve anything, and he gets it into his head that his kick drum should light up every time he hits it. I can't begin to comprehend the mechanics and electronics behind this arrangement, even though he explains it to me at length on several occasions, but I do know that the effect is pretty cool and definitely NDI, low rent and entertaining at the same time. But GT is just getting started! At some point he sees on TV some circus act, a clown, who inspires him. We already proudly steal songs and riffs -- why not steal props, too? So he sequesters himself in the basement of his apartment building, working feverishly through the night, through several nights, no sleep, showers of sparks flying around his shoulders, wiping sweat away from his red-rimmed eyes, until he emerges, holding high his crowning achievement: a leaf-blower with a toilet paper holder duct-taped to the end. It's a toilet-paper cannon, and yes, it works. And yes, we are a "prop band." Like everything else dubious and corrupt about this new venture, we embrace it whole-heartedly. Stick a fresh roll on the holder, flip the switch, and a jet of TP shoots about twenty feet into the atmosphere. A double roll just about covers the entire crowd at our next gig. Quite a spectacle. Just keep it away from the ceiling fans.
Soon GT returns to the laboratory, this time with our new roadie, a tall, long-haired young man we call Tiggr, a stage-design lunatic who is far and away the most talented person we have ever met, waaaaay more talented than we are. For unknown reasons he decides to throw in with us, and he and GT set out to build a confetti cannon, which is much more dangerous than it sounds. They use converted industrial air tanks, each about the size of a pony keg, heavy steel, with touchy valves that Tiggr actually welds in such a way as to work with a foot switch. He also uses some kind of serious construction-guy tool to put threads on a couple of 5-inch-wide steel pipes, each about three feet long. These screw onto the tanks and work with the valves in some official way. Each tube holds about a cubic yard of confetti. Take the tanks to gas station, use the air hose and a gauge to get them up to about 50 psi, toss them very carefully into the back of the van, set them up at the edge of the stage, give Skipper the foot switch, and at a critical and/or random part of the show he stomps on that switch and PHLEH!!! A cubic yard of confetti shoots about twenty feet into the air, coming down to coat fans, float in open beers, infiltrate the monitor wedges, and work into our shoes. Confetti starts turning up in every arena of our lives, from bathroom to bedroom. GT swears he poops confetti.
Tiggr soon shows us this confetti shooter thingie was no fluke. He re-jiggers a cheap, nasty looking guitar I buy at a garage sale to do, kind, of, what Ace Frehley's does during his solo with Kiss: light up and smoke. It involves a block of LED lights jammed in where one of the pick-ups used to be, and he also fits a little smoke bomb with a spark-fired fuse in the back of the body. The guitar sounds atrocious, unplayable even by Pigtail's standards, but for a solo I make a bunch of noise sawing across the strings for a few seconds and then I hold my breath and close my eyes and flip the switch. Blinding light blinds me, and a foul billowing cloud of sulphury smoke pours out, so thick I can't breathe for at least a minute. An awesome spectacle.
His next idea is to cast our faces in resin, and use the molds to make plastic Halloween masks, complete with strings and painted features. At our first ever show at the Avalon nightclub, by now a pretty hot ticket, we gather a dozen or so friends and girlfriends backstage and put these cool NDI plastic masks on them. We dress them up in surplus tux coats and hats and give them a guitar or two, some extra drumsticks, party horns to hand out, and when it's time to go on all twenty of us pour out onto the stage, milling and jumping around, a totally surreal swarm of Pigtails, Skippers, and Goodtimes. It's pretty fucking freaky, even from our point of view, but not as freaky as it was to a bunch of our die-hard fans in the front row, who had chosen that night to do mushrooms before the show.
But Tiggr's true genius is revealed when he produces his masterpiece, the Velourabeast...