Wednesday, March 5, 2014 (Early Show)
Neck of the Woods
Better than: No kind of pizza.
The first clue was the line. By 6:30 p.m. it stretched several storefronts past the door of Inner Richmond bar/club Neck of the Woods. Aside from a few veteran show-goers discussing drug acquisitions for future festivals, it seemed largely to consist of early twentysomethings fresh out of work and giddily reminiscing about Home Alone. ("Let's totally watch it after, dude!") They were apparently expecting a living joke, a $10-per-ticket, in-person meme -- and I probably should've been, too.
Granted, this was the first S.F. show of the Pizza Underground -- a band of New York kids singing pizza-themed Velvet Underground covers -- which is nothing if not memedom personified. But then this band is also on a real tour, charging real prices, and selling out two shows at a real, 500-capacity club. It didn't seem totally unreasonable to think they might play some real music.
At 7:21 p.m., Macaulay Culkin and his sunglassed, black-clad bandmates went on. Our child star found himself on a far, initially under-lit side of the stage. In fact, he was a little hard to recognize in a man-bun, shades, and a beard, if you hadn't been keeping up with the Pizza Underground's videos.
Here is what happened next: Equipped with a poorly tuned electric guitar, a maraca, a kazoo, a drum stick banged against an Escape From New York pizza box, and a bad German accent, Macaulay Culkin and his bandmates riffed on the Velvet Underground's lyrics and music to make a bunch of pizza jokes.
Some of them were mildly grin-inducing, at least for the 20 to 120 seconds each "song" lasted. There was "Papa John Says." There was "Pizza Morning." There were two medleys with "It's Such a Pizza Day" (copping Lou Reed's "Perfect Day"), and "Cheese Days," (from Nico's "These Days"). There was "All the Pizza Parties" and "Pizza Gal."
There was lots of talk of cheese and heat. There was big applause from the crowd for a song -- at least the most song-type-thing of the set -- about the importance of closing the pizza box.
The performance sounded terrible, and not in a purposeful, shambolic sort of way, but a "We don't really know what the fuck we're doing and don't really care" sort of way. It was all grating electric guitar, shaky, out-of-tune vocals, and flimsy percussion. But playing songs well was, of course, not the point. The point was pizza jokes and Macaulay Culkin -- who, we should note, contributed little more than the movement of a single maraca, a brief kazoo solo, and some weak background vocals to the performance.
Three-quarters of the way through, some dude came out in a blond wig and white sunglasses: "Nevermound." He played a medley of Nirvana covers on an acoustic guitar, with the conceit being that he sang their lyrics in the past tense. This was the level of cleverness we were dealing with.
After twenty-eight minutes, the entire show was over. There was no encore. The house lights came on along with "Get Lucky," and the crowd flooded out of the club. There was a sense of, "That just happened?" Not in that we'd witnessed something cute or surprising, but rather a disbelief that this featherweight amusement, this YouTube lark, this 10-second-worthy meme, managed to gather such a large crowd and assume such a considerable span of the Internet's attention*. It was the concert equivalent of all those cheap, halfway-correct (or not even halfway) blog posts that flood the web with grabby headlines and shitty information. You get the thing, the story, the performance, and realize it's basically nothing, but by then it doesn't matter. You've clicked, you've paid, you've Tweeted a picture of Macaulay Culkin. Maybe you thought it was worth $10 or $12. I certainly didn't.
So, please: Go spend your money at a real, non-meme show sometime. They're better than this.