The Pizza Underground is so last year. In terms of this year’s hit junk food parody cover band, it’s so-called "drive-through metal," brought to you by the greasy sarcasm of Mac Sabbath, who turned Crescent Ballroom into a corporate cesspit for two hours on Friday night.
I had a flat tire, so I sadly missed Fathers Day, but heard they were throwing cans of Dad’s Root Beer around, making the floor all sticky. One can even accidentally hit a light. Anyway, I did make it in time to see Mac’s set from the beginning.
First, an eerie, distorted version of Stephen Sondheim’s "Send in the Clowns" played, before the record began skipping and warped into evil Pennywise for Clown-like laughs. Then, the red and yellow curtain fell.
The stage was astonishing. The mic stand was a soft drink, evil Ronnie heads spewed smoke and beamed lasers, and macabre Halloween skulls were embedded in inflatable versions of the Mickey D’s clown we all know and loathe so well.
But even more astonishing was the band itself. Ronald Osbourne, the frontman and vocalist, was revealed in a straitjacket, thrashing about until he escaped, throwing up arms draped in red and white streamers to a version of “War Pigs” tweaked to be about McRibs.
The rest of the band — what Ronald called his “wonderful combo” — was Slayer McCheeze, a giant burger head with steer horns on guitar, the Catburglar on drums, and the blobbish Grimalice, a cross between a Boohbah and Slash, but this Grimace knock-off looked like it was on way more heroin than the Guns N’ Roses guitarist ever did. Grimalice was my favorite just because of the floppy way he slapped the bass with his big meaty hands.
Ronnie himself was a showstopper, sexily diabolical akin to Alice Cooper, spraying water-filled ketchup bottles into the crowd, slapping spatulas together and flipping patties on a grill. His cutting lyrics covered everything from obesity to pink slime to GMOs and everything else that makes McDonald’s one of the worst corporations on the planet.
When addressing the crowd, Ronnie spoke with an obviously fake British accent, and singing wasn’t his strong point. He made up for it with his stage presence and hellish vocals, not to mention the band’s sharp sense of humor. “Paranoid” became “Pair-a-buns” while "Children of the Grave" was called "Chicken for the Slaves."
I can’t tell you how many bad puns were squeezed into this super-size performance – including, but not limited to, the band’s fictional contemporaries Great White Castle, Iron Maidenny’s, Motley Croutons, and Cinnabon Jovi. I cringed about as much as I laughed, which was a lot.
The highlight of the show was while mutating “Iron Man” into “Frying Pan,” Ozzy pulled out a rubber bat placed between two sesame seed buns and chomped down. While this was happening, a furry eyeball thing with giant roller skates scooted around the stage. I vaguely remember these creatures from my childhood, somehow driven deep into my subconscious. Google tells me they’re called "Fry Kids." My only thought was, There’s something I haven’t thought of in 20 years and now it’s spraying silly string into the crowd. Um, all right.
In short, the whole performance was nothing if not delightfully eye-popping. The only reason I wanted to see it is because I felt it would be my last chance before Mac Sabbath is sued into oblivion. However, I did notice they never once used the M-word or any other trademarked phrases, aside from the “I’m Lovin’ It” riff that punctuated the end of sets, complete with evil guffaws. This act is probably safe from litigation, but they’re treading a very thin copyright line.
The real Black Sabbath seems fine with everything. According to what Ronald told his audience, the originals shared the gimmick's video for “Frying Pan.” Nonetheless, the characters’ actual identities are, as of this printing, unknown to the public. Mike Odd, the band’s manager, spokesperson and designer, is the only name attached to the group. Photographic evidence of Mike and Osbourne together suggests they are separate people.
We’ll probably learn who everyone really is if and when a lawsuit is filed. I hope that doesn’t happen, as this whole shindig should be protected under parody laws and freedom of speech, but certain corporations (looking at you Disney) have ways of getting around things like that.
Regardless of its future, the project must have been so incredibly fun to create, being elaborate to the point of masterful art. It has a distinctly ’70s-era aesthetic, nodding toward characters from McDonaldland that have all but been forgotten. Thus, it fed directly into the hipster retro nostalgia movement.
In other words, that’s why all the Crescent scenesters paid $17 to be here. Driven by deep-rooted Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), people attend things like this so they can upload photos of people in burger costumes on their Instagram feed. This is exactly what happened at The Pizza Underground's set last year. And this show looked close to selling out, yet,as usual
, people barely danced or moved at all. Their phones showed all their enthusiasm for them.
And there’s nothing wrong with any of that in this case. Just as McDonald’s supplies a demand for empty calories and processed food, Mac Sabbath delivers on those cynical points about our culture in a way that is concise, entertaining, and, most of all, touches on some contentious issues.
All that adds up to one of the most interesting bands to come around in a long, long time. They have Dead Kennedys' outrageous sense of humor mixed with total irreverence and ornate style on top of a solid, engaging performance (even if the crowd is reluctant to respond). So while this whole thing was probably thought up after eating too many pot brownies, it is one of the most brilliant ideas in a long time.
The show fittingly ended with Wesley Willis’ famous song, “Rock N’ Roll McDonalds.” What a perfect evening.
Last Night: Mac Sabbath, Fathers Day at Crescent Ballroom
The Crowd: Saw a good number of metal heads, people that seemed to have grown up listening to Black Sabbath, but they were very much outnumbered by hipsters.
Overheard: "Give it up for Father’s Day. We’re Monsanto Mutants, and I thought we had issues, but wow…"
Personal Bias: I’ve never liked Black Sabbath, finding their music to be incredibly repetitive and boring. That didn’t stop me from enjoying myself here, however, so that is one really talented performance.
Troy Farah is on Twitter sometimes.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.