The most frequently asked question people have after an encounter with John Ruskin, aka Nardwuar the Human Serviette, is “Is this guy for real?” A DJ on college radio since 1987, Nardwuar is an enthusiastic supporter of the underground music scene in Vancouver, B.C.; the founder of his own label, Nardwuar Records; frontman for the band Thee Evaporators ; and a journalist best known for his guerrilla-style interviews with rock stars and celebrities that have been broadcast on MuchMusic, Canada's cable access music show. With an impish grin, a fondness for vintage plaid apparel, and an arsenal of obscure tidbits of info, Nardwuar's idiot-savant-on-Ritalin persona elicits mixed reactions from the famous and the almost famous. In the “Best Of” video retrospective shown prior to his band's performances, Nardwuar is seen presenting Moby with a copy of the techno artist's tour rider (it seems he requires 10 pairs of clean underpants for each show) and reciting postings from www.groupies.com to an annoyed Jack White of the White Stripes that describe, in detail, the Detroit singer's alleged sexual prowess. Nardwuar is either the world's most offbeat interviewer or history's most successful celebrity stalker.
And then there's Thee Evaporators. Comprised of a trio of veteran musicians from the Vancouver scene and Nardwuar, who sings and tinkers on keyboards, the band is like a cross between the campiness of Alvin & the Chipmunks and the manic joke-punk of the Dickies. With self-explanatory song titles such as “(I've Got) Icicles on My Testicles,” the group's material is as fun and warmly irreverent as anything by '80s novelty-song paragon “Weird Al” Yankovic. But the real joy in seeing the band perform is watching Nardwuar entice audience members to do silly things during each song — like forming a spastic punk rock conga line. More often than not the crowd participates, possibly because the singer's man-child spirit is contagious, or perhaps because there's a little bit of Nardwuar in all of us.