If, as a kid, you ever kinked your neck rockin' out to hair metal, recall for a moment that initial infatuation with unabashed testosterock. There you were, staring at your preteen reflection, approximating a come-hither sneer before you'd really hithered anyone, mimicking a bombastic power ballad. Now fast forward through puberty, high school, discovering the Velvet Underground, college, discovering garage rock, your first real job, purchasing that Andrew WK record, and unexpectedly hankering for a devilishly catchy, lighter-igniting tune that celebrated getting laid, rockin' it, or getting laid and rockin' it.
Karaoke bars of course have long filled their cash registers by letting us amateurs semi-ironically belt out power ballads. But those dives aren't the only places these days to find some novice crowing "Sister Christian." There's a full-on touring industry creeping up around mock-championing the hair-metal dude. The phenomenon celebrates the goofball factor the original musicians couldn't cop to in those exuberant '80s tunes from the likes of Winger, Poison, and Night Ranger. Spinal Tap is alive and well thanks to operations like the US Air Guitar Championships (and the subsequent Air Guitar Nation documentary), that've made transient stars of theatrical (imaginary) ax-wielders. Guitar Hero straps a toy six-string to folks who fervently noodle along to, for example, the Bret Michaels Band, recently pitting gamers against guitarists live onstage in San Francisco. And there's an outsized act that combines elements of karaoke, air guitar, and baby-gonna-blow-my-wad faces — Boston's Bang Camaro, an irony-dappled Def Leppard spawn if there ever was one.
Bang Camaro is a "5-piece band with 20 lead singers" that plays original power ballads and sells out shows along the East Coast. Last week they made their initial trek to California. Jogging to their places onstage at the half-empty Great American, Bang Camaro emitted the immediate zeal — and broad shoulders — of a champion football team. The front line comprised a bassist, a shirtless drummer, and three guitarists. After that initial lineup warmed up the crowd with instrumental soloing, Bang's vocalist gang emerged from backstage, pumping fists as they paired up — 15 in all — around a row of microphones.
Bang Camaro kicked off every song like a headliner inviting the audience to override the bouncers and sing along for the finale. Its denim-clad clan of Matt Damon fraternity brothers meets emo-indie studs made fun of bad rock-writing with lyrics about the ladies, the lightning, and the nightlife, and for their part, the Bang boys nailed plenty of ridiculous stereotypes. They had all the quips of a sleazy glam-metal outfit: "I don't remember what day it is, sorry. When was the last time you slept, motherfucker?" "Fellas, get your fists up! Ladies, get your shirts up!" They sprayed beer all over one another. They screwed their faces into the visages of lion-maned ladies' men. They playacted charm on the crowd, kissing hands and hanging mikes into the audience. At one point, my friend remarked, "This is the most fantastic thing ever!" But then she instantly edited her assessment, "Or maybe," she added, "this is the most fantastic temporary thing ever."
Bang Camaro's show looked like fun for the members, but it wasn't so totally awesome for some of us in the audience. I agree with my friend's hedged enthusiasm. Watching a bunch of guys pantomime a genre's absurdity just isn't as much fun as trumpeting it yourself — whether that's around a karaoke machine or using a beer-bottle microphone at house party. Why pay good money to see what you can get at the Mint any night of the week for tips?
The show ended with Bang Camaro inviting the crowd to "meet us at the bar, we'll do shots!" As the fifty or so folks left in the club worked our way out, two Boston pals of mine gave their seals of approval to the evening's entertainment. "That's exactly what Boston is all about," said one with a grin. "Guy sing-alongs and guys giving hugs." And almost on cue, a monitor-humping Bang Camaro-er came over to thank us for coming to the show by throwing his arms around us in a sweaty embrace — the most authentic, and least ironic, rock move of the night.