Thurs Jan 17 at Sit & Spin.
I'm always a fan of the joke that gets itself. "We're Bearskin Rugburn, from BEACON HILL!" shouts singer/drummer Diamond C, just before the band launches into one of the silliest and least pretentious sets of rock and roll I've seen in months. The crowd gathered at Sit & Spin is reduced to enthusiastic screaming and genuine, resounding laughter. Everyone seems of the mind that metal is both very cool and totally moronic. Mercifully, the band agrees.
That's important, because while the act of playing metal in 2002 (not hideous nü metal, mind you--we're talking metal of the Monster Magnet or even Motley Crüe variety) is inherently a tongue-in-cheek venture, I usually question bands that attempt to play bad metal well: bands that forget to be funny, and start thinking they're actually making art; that their solos are somehow revelatory or inspired, bad-'80s all over again.
But Bearskin Rugburn defies me. Guitarists Vinnie Vintage and Hanify (who also goes by "the Detective") are each the genuine article, soloing athletically at gratuitous lengths to the delight of the audience. Meanwhile, Diamond C throws up devil horns at the onset of every song--songs with choruses like "We're gonna go where the smoke is thick/That's H-E-double hockey sticks!"--and Vintage plays like every moment is his last.
I keep expecting Vintage to wink, because he obviously knows he's funny. But he knows better than to give the joke away that easily, which is smart: Vintage watches us, deadly serious, looking too preppy to be an actual metalhead, nonetheless in love with his every solo. The second best thing about Bearskin Rugburn, after the killer shtick, is the immensity of talent.
We in the audience are reveling in a golden moment, having been given an opportunity to enjoy real metal in the context of a well-told joke. "This next song is kind of a theme song on your way to the gates," Diamond C announces to introduce the aforementioned "H-E-double hockey sticks." "And I'm not talking about the pearly ones, motherfuckers! This next song is called 'Meet Me... At the... Gates!" He lays into his drum heads, and Vintage takes vocals, scary-whispering the chorus.
What's fun about this band is that even as you laugh at its joy and ridiculousness, you laugh harder at yourself for loving the music, and for being as dumb as you are. You are happily reminded that you once thought Satan was equal parts terrifying and cool, or that you used to say "H-E-double hockey sticks" all the time. Bearskin Rugburn reminds me of an excellent elementary-school story a friend recalled recently: How he was once told that "Styx sucks," a comment provoked by the Styx T-shirt he had been wearing that day. His response was organic and perfect: "You suck."
During Bearskin Rugburn's final song (the chorus of which is an anthemic "Bearskin... Rugburn!"), two masked people on stilts come out and do crazy witch-doctor dances in front of the stage. One holds a silver pompom and wears a Bearskin Rugburn T-shirt with the name written in all straight lines, the quintessential metal/Satanic font. The appearance of the dancers is so overwrought and underwhelming that it's brilliant. One of the stilt-walkers sets off a piece of flash paper, arms waving, acting all spooky and magical.
I'm laughing my ass off.