Macaulay Culkin and his New York clique brought the Pizza Underground (yup, it’s still a thing) to The Uptown in Oakland Friday night, and the four-piece, Moldy Peaches alum Toby Goodshank, and local openers Amigo the Devil, Bam!Bam!, and The Frail, delivered 400 raucous degrees of feel-good heat to a gaggle of discerning fans, and even a few detractors. Beers a’sloshing, viewers bundled into the mid-size venue festival-style–close enough to breathe on each other–to get uploadable proof of presence at the famed band’s second-to-last performance on their current US tour. The curious crowd waited, thinned out, and expanded again as the night wore on.
The draw of the evening, for Oaklanders, may have been the unusual minutiae: a former child star gracing a stage, the scent of pepperoni pizza treating first-served diehards, and the easy no-charge cover of an ID card–all just a few blocks-length from First Friday-goers, who, instead of winding all the way down from the almost-over trade walk, could pair a post-party with their pot art pandemonium. “This is your first Friday?” Pizza Underground personality Deenah Vollmer joked later. “You guys must be young.” Her band took advantage of the monthly event’s popularity by sound-checking at the open venue around 7 p.m. Only a few early birds wandered into The Uptown for a drink, and just three people actively ogled the East Coast-cool band behind a roped-off stage area, as the sound engineer checked their levels. It wouldn’t be until past midnight that the funny bunch began their set.
By 9 p.m., merch dealers set up t-shirts and totes in the back of the hall, while Daniel Kiranos as Amigo the Devil beckoned everyone forward with his fierce showmanship. “We’re going to sing some songs about serial killers and shit,” the performer announced to a mingling crowd. It was a weird pluralization of his solo act, but not out of line with the madness of his genre, deemed Murderfolk. Demeanor-wise, Kiranos oscillated between Jack Black’s Tenacious D persona and Claudio Sanchez of Coheed and Cambria. The thick of the two influences was enough to make floor-dwellers gradually turn from their conversations to soak in Kiranos’ soulful voice, caustic lyrics, and fired-by-gin attitude. In red flannel, a brimming beard and his poor boy hat, Kiranos further explored taboo themes like vices, revealed his pop-leanings with a John Mayer cover, and playfully belted an earnest few bars of “Wrecking Ball”. He even threw in a pirate drinking song. “Oh demon alcohol,” Amigo the Devil growled on “Alcohol” from his 2010 EP Manimals, “sad memories I can’t recall.” Kiranos left room for attentive patrons to raise their glasses and shout along with him, dropping his guitar to bellow a last refrain in silence.
A few audience members admitted that for all his bite, Amigo the Devil was underwhelming, maybe because he could have used a back up crew (or an actual “we.”) “If I were just listening to him on my computer,” said one observer, Nick, “I would have hit ‘next’ by now.”
“I think he needs a band,” said fellow observer Hanson. “It needs drums, right?”
Hanson might have been appeased much later in the night, when Moe Tucker-like drummer/vocalist Vollmer banged her aptly-mic’d pizza box with aplomb, during the awaited Pizza Underground set. After everyone had endured a shruggable three hours with Bam!Bam!, The Frail, and Pizza Underground friend Toby Goodshank, Vollmer’s rhythmic thuds were noticeably welcome as they reverberated heavily throughout the drunken, enthusiastic room. Her fellow pie-devotees–guitarist Matt Colbourn, shaggy-haired tambourine guy Austin Kilham and Culkin on percussion, kazoo and off-kilter banter–kept the percussive pizza-themed night on point, even if general fifth member Phoebe Kreutz on glockenspiel was missing.
Highlights from the pizza-party were plenty, with abstract video accompaniments, many costumes, and all-welcome audience ribbing. “This is song is about pizza,” Culkin announced more than once to consistent chuckles. The actual music was similar to their Bandcamp-hosted medley, with a couple breaks for featured side projects. The quartet gave Oakland a glimpse a their progeny Pussy Joel, which, in the spirit of the Pizza Underground, is a parody band that puts a feline twist on Billy Joel lyrics. Private parts were also a dependable theme, with Vollmer and Culkin asking audience members to rep their respective body parts, and white boards distributed throughout the crowd that read, “Boob Reed”.
A lady near the front of the stage, hoisted up on a pair of shoulders, might have been inspired by all the genitalia talk: with one swift move, her tank top was off, and two bare boobs facing the performers later, Culkin lowered his dark shades to gesture his approval at her bravado. Also audacious was Toby Goodshank, donning white 60s shades and a blonde shaggy wig to play Kurt Cobain’d to a crowd of seemingly not-endeared Nirvana fans. Goodshank, whose concept set comprised Nirvana songs rewritten in past tense, sent a few attendees immediately out of the room. While Goodshank sung medley-style in his Colin Meloy-like voice, one especially testy blonde female fan left in a fit, and screaming with the full force of her body she accused, “blasphemer!” It’s debatable, though, whether the famously good-natured band would have been more flattered by the protest than Goodshank’s tribute.
What’s not debatable, though, is that the show was undoubtedly a good time. Though the Pizza Underground might seem like a played-out joke to anyone who’s followed the band since it went public last year, the performers delivered what you might expect from a band that sings about pizza: a night of totally worth-it fun. They even announced a contest for people committed to absurd ideas, which they encouraged innovators tweet about at Nevermound.
They wrapped up the US Portion of their tour on Saturday in Pomona, and they’ll be bringing their cheesy songs to the UK this month. Below you can view more of our photos of the show, taken all the way from a coveted spot at the back of the packed house, as well as a taste of the evening with some video clips.