I was attending San Diego State University at the time that I wrote this for my “History of Rock N’ Roll” class. I took the class for the easy A because if you’ve read this far you know that I know my sh*t. What follows is my review exactly as turned in…
The band I chose to see was Steel Panther, who played at the House of Blues in downtown San Diego. To be honest they were not my first choice though. The reason I ended up seeing them is because I unfortunately ran out of time. I was hoping to write a concert report on a band that I would have wanted to see anyway, but unfortunately the bands I wanted to see simply didn’t pass through San Diego before the end of the semester. I settled on seeing Mastodon on May 5th until Professor Flood announced that all concert reports would be due in class on May 4th. It is during that class that reminded me of the Steel Panther concert. I first saw the concert advertised in The Reader but know it was also heavily promoted and endorsed by local radio stations 101 KGB and Rock 105.3. The funny thing is that I did not realize that this was the same band I had seen about six years earlier when they were a staple every Wednesday night at Typhoon Saloon in Pacific Beach until the singer mentioned it. From what I can gather they mainly play either in Europe or stay in the Southwestern United States.
Steel Panther is essentially a cover band in the vain of 80’s hair metal. The first thing that struck me as particularly impressive was the level of detail in the band members costuming. Every band member wore big hair, spandex, neon colors, and make-up even though they were all male performers. Then again that’s how it used to be back in the heyday. Another thing that impressed me was the actual musicianship. The vocalist and guitarist in particular were spot on virtuoso level musicians.
As is the case with almost all concerts I’ve attended one of the weak points was the opening band. It was a four-piece band called Immune. They lost me immediately from the first song when the lead guitarist imitated Jimi Hendrix by playing with his teeth and behind his head. There is nothing wrong with being influenced by someone but those are things that set Hendrix apart from everybody 40 years ago, not now. Another weak point for the concert was the sound quality. Loudness is great and an expectation for a rock concert but only if that loudness comes with clarity. This particular show lacked the clarity I desired from the speakers.
Even though it was expected, it was still a little annoying having “convenience” fees tacked on to the price of the ticket when purchased from the venue. The concert was a little pricey for a predominantly cover band at $27.50. Parking in downtown San Diego is always atrocious unless one decides to overpay for a lot or structure. I was fortunate enough to find a metered spot a few blocks away with minimal effort. As mentioned earlier the sound system and opening band could have been better. I found myself watching the drunken groupies more than the opening band. The lighting was of the standard multi-colored variety and always moving but overall bright to give the audience a good view of the band. The stage had absolutely no props except the performers themselves. In this case it worked because the performers wore such extreme costumes.
Variety of Music
Steel Panther opened with “Kickstart My Heart” by Motley Crue. It was strange to watch since the singer looked like an exact replica of Vince Neil, the real singer of Motley Crue. The band had a sort of vulgar comedy routine between each song that was quite amusing. The next song they played was “Jump” by Van Halen. After that they mixed it up with an original song called “Asian Hooker.” Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” then found new life many years after it’s conception. Coming in immediately after that was a parody version of George Michael’s “Faith” where the lyrics were changed to better suit the vulgar theme. Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever” followed in hilarious fashion when they brought an elderly gentleman in the crowd on stage to help sing it. Instead of singing he just invented a new dance. Afterward the band mixed in another original called “Community Property.” Then they revisited Bon Jovi by playing “Runaway” followed by another Motley Crue song “Live Wire.” These songs were succeeded by crowd pleasers “Pour Some Sugar on Me” by Def Leppard and “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. After this they played another original and that was all I could take for the evening. Overall the band was very precise without any “jamming.”
The audience loved this band. I think this was mostly due to the band actively involving the audience. The barrier between band and performer was not really there. They called out specific members of the audience like a comedian would in a smaller setting. At different points in the show women from the audience were brought up on the stage to tease the crowd with provocative dance. The crowd was singing along to all the familiar songs because the song selection was catered toward that. The comedy aspect of the concert kept the general atmosphere of fun intact. It probably also didn’t hurt that the crowd was inebriated from the one of the many 22 ounce beers they purchased.
The band was a typical rock quartet with one member singing, one playing guitar, one playing bass guitar, and the other playing drums. The singer’s voice was very clear with a pretty wide range. He could hit the super high soprano type notes popular in the 80’s but also had a more regular tenor type voice to sing most of the tunes. The guitar player wasn’t playing through a very fancy setup. He played the same six string Stratocaster style guitar with three single coil pickups throughout. The only change is his sound was between a clean channel and distorted channel on his amplifier. The bass player played a four string bass that gave a sound somewhere between clean and slightly distorted. The drummer didn’t have a big fancy set either. He played with a single bass pedal, floor tom, a smaller tom mounted to the kick drum, snare, hi-hat, and a few different cymbals besides the ride cymbal.
Balance of Instruments
Overall the mix was good with no single instrument overpowering another. I think the instruments were overpowering the house sound system a little though, which could have caused the slight lack of clarity mentioned earlier. I think the balance of instrumentation also benefitted from the lack of effects. None of the instruments had any effects except when the guitarist switched to the distortion channel.
The venue was plenty large enough to accommodate the crowd that showed up. As far as attendance goes, it wasn’t really stretching the limits of the 2,000-seat capacity like most of the other shows I’ve seen there. Live Nation was the promoter because they have exclusive promotion over any House of Blues venue. I’ve never been that much of a fan of the venue because of the sound. I like it in terms of intimacy of the venue but either something about the acoustics or the guy running the soundboard doesn’t do it for my ears.
The singer, who goes by the stage name of Michael Starr was outstanding. His range and stage presence were 100% rock star. While I would guess most of the real singers of the original bands they covered can no longer hit higher notes, he still has it. It doesn’t seem to bother him that he never made the big time back when this music was actually relevant. The guitar player was also the other standout. He goes by the moniker “Satchel” and stunned in his simplicity. Every band I’ve ever seen that I really liked had a huge board of effects pedals but all he had was a simple pedal to switch between clean channel and distortion. He knew his licks and besides exaggerated stage moves didn’t solo more than necessary to get the point across. A combination of confidence and playfulness worked for them.
No background material was provided during this show. Once I figured out they were the same band that used to play Typhoon Saloon I realized they used to be called Metal Skool. I also found out on their website that they pretty much do the same thing they were doing in Pacific Beach but now in Los Angeles and Las Vegas on a weekly basis.
Ability to Stimulate You
The whole point of the show is to stimulate you. It will not be everybody’s cup of tea but definitely embodies the spirit and look of 80’s hair metal for anyone who wasn’t around to see the real bands in concert back in that decade of decadence. Everything in their show is over-the-top from the costumes to the syncopated head banging. My particularly favorite part was the mock moves where the three mobile members of the band walked or dipped their guitars in unison. If the music is not going to be super intense like Tool then it might as well be comical. I like that they can make fun of not only the 80’s but also themselves. The 80’s may be over but someone forgot to tell these guys and I think that’s exactly how they like it.