Steel Panther: an '80s hair band parody better than the real thing?
Steel Panther: an '80s hair band parody better than the real thing? (Neil Zlozower, Handout)

Steel Panther and James Durbin performed at Rams Head Live on Thursday night. Contributor Jay Trucker has this review:

Comedy clubs are littered with guys who can strum the guitar and tell jokes concurrently, but the key to a great musical comedy act is the strength of their musicianship. As with Weird Al and Spinal Tap, Steel Panther demonstrate talent comparable and at times superior to the acts they parody.


The '80s glam-metal foursome formed in 2000 according to its bio (or in 1988 according to the "bio") and since then have been regulars on Hollywood's Sunset Strip, where they perform a mix of covers and originals. The group's national tours, however, predominantly feature original material from 2009's "Feel the Steel" and 2011's "Balls Out." Thursday night's 100-minute set at Rams Head Live highlighted the band's professionalism and penchant for crotch jokes.

First, "American Idol" Season 10 fourth place finalist James Durbin opened the show with a surprisingly hard-rocking 40 minute set. Think a glam-rock Adam Lambert with more emphasis on the rock part.

Taking the stage at 10:45 p.m. in full costume, Steel Panther opened with the first two tracks from "Balls Out," the space-age concept album that spoofs "In the Future" and "Supersonic Sex Machine." The first of several breaks followed as the band bantered with one another between songs. Singer Ralph Saenz and guitarist Russ Parrish handled most of the emceeing duties. Though veterans of '80s bands including LA Guns and Fight, the duo go by the stage names "Michael Star" and "Satchel." Together with gender-bending bassist Travis Haley ("Lexxi Foxxx") and drummer Daren Leader ("Stix Zadinia"), their act includes as much wink-and-nod hedonism and misogyny as their album cuts and the crowd responded to their jokes with enthusiasm nearly equal that of their songs.

Additional highlights included a rousing rendition of the power ballad "Community Property" and the band's slowest song, "Weenie Ride," for which Stix took center stage for keyboard duties.  For heavier fare, including "Just Like Tiger Woods" and "Turn Out the Lights," the band shared choreographed head-banging that matched their Flying V guitars and later invited a dozen women on stage with them for a discussion of domestic policy and the forthcoming election.

Just kidding, they danced and took their tops off.

For the encore, Durbin joined the band for the lone cover of the evening, a spot-on rendition of "Sweet Child of Mine" during which the 23 year-old reality contestant's vocals noticeably outshined those of Michael Star. Panther and Durbin's impassioned take on the Guns 'n' Roses standard easily bested the half-hearted rendition Mile Kennedy performed with Slash two weeks earlier earlier.

The band's parodies are also in many ways a tribute to '80s rock. On the day that Van Halen announced the cancelation of most of their tour due to in-fighting, Steel Panther stands as a better tribute to the '80s than many of the current bands from the big-hair era. Though they laughed at appropriate intervals, the crowd's animated approval of each soaring guitar solo shows that they, too, came to rock out to the '80s, albeit with a millennial-appropriate level of self-awareness.


In the Future
Supersonic Sex Machine
Tomorrow Night
Fat Girl (Thar She Blows)
Asian Hooker
Just Like Tiger Woods
Gold-Digging Whore
Turn Out the Lights
Community Property
Eyes of a Panther
Weenie Ride
Party All Day
It Won't Suck Itself
Death to All But Metal

Sweet Child of Mine
17 Girls in a Row

Jay Trucker is a frequent contributor to Midnight Sun. He teaches at the Community College of Baltimore County in Dundalk and blogs occassionally at WNST.net. He last reviewed Slash. Wesley Case edited this review.