Friday, April 27, 2012

Call Me Pigtail 15/20

Props Dept.

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...


  1. Like any good rock-n-roll expose, you have now dipped your toes into the holy trinity of rock, drugs. When do we get a taste of the rampant sex orgies that inevitably followed these charming fellows around the globe? There has to be some raunchy Finnish stuff, right?

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