Before there was Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Super Size Me or Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation, there was José Bové, the French sheep farmer and trade unionist who in 1999 vandalized a not-yet-open McDonald’s franchise. Officially a protest against U.S. tariffs on Roquefort cheese and other high-end food products in response to the European Union’s ban on hormone-treated American beef, his act of civil disobedience turned the local rabble-rouser into a worldwide celebrity. After doing time in jail for his beliefs, Bové became an anti-globalization folk hero who went on to serve in the European Parliament.
But he never shredded on a guitar.
This is why we have Mac Sabbath. Festival culture and the music industry generally have only strengthened the covalent bonds between artists and brand ambassadors, but the four-piece “drive-thru metal” band from Los Angeles that rewrites the lyrics to Black Sabbath songs constitutes a high-decibel reaction against product endorsements and extrusions of pink slime.
Mac Sabbath is a riddle shrouded in an enigma, wrapped in some metallic foil to keep hot — and it’s a mystery even to itself. Manager Mike Odd, a veteran of the scene who is also the lead vocalist in Rosemary’s Billygoat, claims he has no idea who Mac Sabbath lead singer Ronald Osbourne really is. All of the members of Mac Sabbath are anonymous, in fact, from the demented Ronald McDonald parody of a frontman to guitarist Slayer MacCheeze (who has giant tusks protruding from his hamburger noggin), bassist Grimalice (a stoned-looking Grimace), and drummer Catburglar, aka “Peter Criss Cut Fries.”
“I don’t know what the hell is going on anymore,” Odd tells SF Weekly by phone, adding that Osbourne “goes on and about how he’s the creator of drive-thru metal and all these other bands are stealing the food out of his mouth: ‘God darn that CinnaBon Jovi, and I’ll catch up with KFC/DC and Burger King Diamond!’ It’s this complete delusion, because I can’t find any of these things anywhere, and then we’ll be on tour and Burger King Diamond will just pop up and sing with the opening bands.”
It’s impossible to determine where facts slide into fiction, and Odd has a habit of punctuating his sentences with near-maniacal guffaws, as if he were taking periodic hits of nitrous while expounding on the band’s evolving mythos. The video for “Pair-A-Buns,” a reworking of “Paranoid,” intersperses shots of the band performing in an alley with a Claymation royal rumble between all manner of fast-food icons. The clay Ronald Osbourne shoots Colonel Sanders to death with a machine gun. The Carl’s Jr. star retaliates by opening a portal for Wendy and The King to step out, guns blazing, but the Cat Burglar uses a ray gun to melt their faces off. It’s sick, but not as sickening as eating McDonald’s every day of your life.
Odd, who prefers that no mention of any fast-food brands come up, notes that the band got a nod from the masters themselves for their parody of “Iron Man.”
“I posted a video of ‘Frying Pan,’ and not too long after that, Black Sabbath posted it on their Instagram and their Twitter, and I didn’t think much more of that at the time other than, ‘That’s amazing! ’” he says. “But we got invited to play the Download Festival in England, and tour England, because the video was going gangbusters — I assume because of Black Sabbath. It’s not just getting to millions of folks. It’s getting to millions of the right folks.”
Referring to Mac Sabbath as a cover band feels inadequate, if not altogether wrong. For one thing, they rewrite the lyrics, and for another, they’re excellent musicians working within the confines of costumes that can’t be anything but impediments to seeing what they’re doing. Slayer MacCheeze’s burger headpiece alone must be a quarter-tonner.
Also, many cover bands are pale facsimiles of the real thing, when Mac Sabbath — however much it may be in on its own joke — takes the theatricality level to the max. They and their song “More Ribs,” a parody of “War Pigs,” were the best thing at Outside Lands GastroMagic stage in 2016, and they’re playing at Great American Music Hall on Halloween night. In addition to the lasers and the smoking grill, that show will have a fast-food costume contest for which fans should “start weaving those cheeseburger wrappers together,” Odd says.
“I’m not one for spoiler alerts,” he adds, “but I will say this is nothing that can be experienced on YouTube. It’s a stadium-sized theatrical stage show crammed onto a club-sized stage.”
The openers, it’s worth noting, are thematically appropriate. Captured! by Robots consists of two robots who play technical metal plus a human slave tethered to them by a shock collar who screams the lyrics. Franks and Deans is a punk-rock act that exclusively plays songs by Rat Pack crooners.
At times, it feels as though the universe of metal is caught in an unwinnable, cosmic war between the forces of tongue-in-cheek camp and purists who want to strip everything down to the roots, branding all others as “false metal.” Mac Sabbath, Odd believes, renders the debate moot.
“Black Sabbath is the most legitimate heavy metal band, to the point where I think it’s the only one that you can 100-percent call ‘heavy metal.’ I think that the phrase was coined because they were the first band to be as heavy as they were, and they were working in metal factories in Birmingham and Tony Iommi’s fingers were cut off by metal — which created the sound of metal,” he says. “You just don’t get more heavy metal than that, so you’re talking about the most legitimate heavy-metal band in the world supporting the goofiest, most theatrical, most costumed heavy-metal band in the world. All the guys in between can fight all they want.”
Mac Sabbath with Captured! by Robots and Franks and Deans, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 8 p.m., $20-$45, at Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., slimspresents.com