Over the last few years, there seems to have been a bit of a dearth of humour in a lot of rock music, with only a small handful of acts like THE DARKNESS incorporating it to much effectiveness. For 80’s hair-metal inspired comedy rockers STEEL PANTHER however, comedy is the main trading point. With a catalogue of horrendously vulgar anthems, and a live show sometimes more akin to a stand-up comedy gig, the band have been gradually carving out their own niche since first breaking out in 2009, and have now made it to arena-bothering level in the UK – bringing BUCKCHERRY and BOWLING FOR SOUP along for the ride.
Considering the more comedic basis of the other two acts, it feels somewhat odd that sleaze-rockers BUCKCHERRY are the opening act for this tour. Josh Todd and co. essentially come across tonight as a serious version of the headliners, but minus much of the fun and humour. They do have a couple of legitimately great songs in their set, with fan-favourites Lit Up and Crazy Bitch both going down a total storm, but everything else leaves much to be desired. A particularly misguided cover of ICONA POP’s chart-topping electro-pop track I Love It (here re-titled and reworked as Say Fuck It) in particular falls completely flat on its face, feeling like an unfunny joke that should never have made it past the drawing board, and there’s little else of note throughout their short set.
BOWLING FOR SOUP are a band that really should have made it to UK arenas a long time ago – that much is clear from tonight’s performance. The Texan quartet have been pumping out pop-punk bangers for over two decades now, and throwing them into a support slot means the band are in full-on anthem delivery mode. If opening with their breakthrough single The Bitch Song isn’t enough of a statement, then following up with arguably their biggest song, High School Never Ends, proves just how much the band understand their role tonight. From there on out, it’s pretty much a non-stop greatest hits set for BOWLING FOR SOUP – everything from lovelorn ballads Ohio (Come Back To Texas) and Almost, to Today Is Gonna Be A Great Day (the self-proclaimed “theme song to Phineas & Ferb – the greatest cartoon ever”) is greeted with the kind of applause normally reserved for headline acts, and the band are clearly loving every second. New single Hey Diane gets an airing on this occasion, with the band choosing instead to utilise their by-now well-rehearsed classic schtick. “How many of you like our song Stacy’s Mom?”, quips vocalist Jaret Reddick at one point, effortlessly following up the colossal cheer with a gleefully chastising, “It’s not even our song you assholes” and diving into a sped-up cover of the much-loved song. The influence of touring with STEEL PANTHER clearly on their minds leads Reddick to later introduce the tongue-in-cheek My Wena at “…clearly about my penis…”, to much amusement, before their barnstorming cover of SR-71 anthem 1985 and Girl All The Bad Guys Want bring the riotously fun set to a conclusion.
A lengthy barrage of classic rock anthems from the likes of GUNS N’ ROSES and KISS fills the arena in the time before STEEL PANTHER eventually take to the stage, setting the tone perfectly for what’s about to come. Ever since their major-label debut Feel The Steel catapulted them to fame in 2009, the Los Angeles comedy-rockers seem to have been ever-growing in popularity, and tonight they’re on nothing short of incredible form. Walking out to the closing bars of I Love It Loud, they waste no time in tearing into Eyes Of A Panther, and immediately, their overblown 80’s cock rock parodying just makes sense. The men now known as Michael Starr, Satchel, Lexxi Foxx and Stix Zadinia may have once honed their skills as a covers band in the clubs of LA’s Sunset Strip, but now they’re genuine superstars in their own right. Just Like Tiger Woods, the band’s ode to the golf superstar’s sexual conquests is second up, and (lyrics aside) actually sounds like a track straight from an 80’s hair band’s releases, such is the accuracy of the sound.
For all their comedy larking around, STEEL PANTHER simply wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the music. Fortunately, the band themselves are all fantastically talented musicians with decades of experience under their collective belts. Frontman Starr (referred to later in the night as both a “chubby David Lee Roth” and a “thin Axl Rose”) possesses arguably a stronger voice at times than some of the acts he and his band are parodying – the likes of Party Like Tomorrow Is The End Of The World and the colossally offensive Asian Hooker coming across as genuinely huge-sounding in this cavernous room.
Even the obligatory mid-set guitar solo is fun at a STEEL PANTHER show it seems – with axeman Satchel more than proving his considerable chops in an extensive piece that incorporates not only VAN HALEN-esque tapping moments, but also parts from classics such as Master of Puppets, Smoke On The Water, Sweet Child O’ Mine, The Trooper, Crazy Train and Iron Man. It’s all carried off to near-perfection, and by its conclusion, Satchel is stood atop the drum riser not only riffing but also playing a bass drum with his foot in one of the most gloriously dumb moments of the show.
Arguably the most fun part of a STEEL PANTHER show though, is seeing how they interact with, and play off of their audience. In tonight’s case, a young boy in the crowd is repeatedly told by the whole band how they plan to “…fuck your mom on our bus while you play Minecraft in the next room…”, in a notable recurring gag. It’s undeniably crude, but the crowd clearly love it, and gets enough of a reaction to keep revisiting throughout the night. Later on, a fan named Chloe is pulled from the front rows of the crowd to be serenaded with individual improvised songs from each band member, before sitting as Starr croons through the especially dirty ballad Girl From Oklahoma. Not only does Chloe then stick around to join in on Community Property, but she’s joined by some 30-odd other women for the set-closing trio of 17 Girls In A Row, Gloryhole and Death To All But Metal. It’s these three that arguably show the band at their best tonight, as each member is able to interact with a small army’s worth of excited fans whilst barely missing a beat, elevating the atmosphere in the room to ridiculous peaks in the process.
After what seems like an unnecessarily long pause, the band do eventually return, and finish things off with a pairing of two of the best tracks from Feel The Steel. First up is ode to larger women Fat Girl (Thar She Blows), which features such choice lines as “Even though some people point and laugh at us/You can kick their ass because you’re bigger than a bus” Finally, the band’s BON JOVI aping anthem Party All Day (Fuck All Night) brings the night to an end with bombast aplenty and maybe the biggest cheers of the night, as several thousand people yell the profanity-laden chorus back at the four men on stage. STEEL PANTHER might still be (rightly) seen as a gimmick band to a lot of people, but their performance on this tour has clearly demonstrated that there’s real talent within their ranks, and a knowing love of what they do. The fact they’ve been able to ascend to arena status is a joy to behold, and it’ll be severely interesting to see where they take things from here.
Check out our photo gallery of the night’s action in Manchester from photographer Laura McCarthy:
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