The esteemed confines of Carnegie Hall have hosted cultured performances by the likes of Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky, who christened the venue in 1891, opera singer Luciano Pavarotti and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. But after the demonic riffs of “Sex Farm” and “Christmas With the Devil” wafted through the auditorium Monday night, the hallowed Hall will never be the same.
“Andrew Carnegie must be spinning in his grave,” Spinal Tap guitarist Nigel Tufnel said before Derek Smalls corrected his bandmate’s statement. “Or at least rockin’ in his grave,” the bassist said, before launching into “Hell Hole.”
Tap opened the show, which was part of the ninth annual Toyota Comedy Festival, with that advocate for redundancy, “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight,” a promise the band lived up to with the nearly 20 songs that followed.
“We’re Spinal Tap from the U.K.,” frontman David St. Hubbins announced early in the performance, one of the many humorous nuances that skewered three decades of heavy metal cliches. The band’s attire followed the same comedic pattern: St. Hubbins’ windblown blond tresses cascading over his equally poofy purple shirt, Smalls’ furry pectorals framed by a leather vest and zebra-print spandex, and Tufnel’s classic, no-frills ensemble of a red and black muscle T and tight black jeans.
For all the hilarity of Spinal Tap’s songs, the three bandmembers along with keyboardist Caucasian Jeffery Vanston and Skippy Skuffelton — a drummer with a deathwish considering Tap’s past percussionists’ untimely deaths — looked somewhat silly and bare on Carnegie Hall’s vast stage. The ornately detailed room further enhanced the show’s awkward setting. Three weak attempts at psychedelia — one kaleidoscopic pattern and two paisley prints — dangled in the background.
“Stonehenge,” “a song that dates back to before you were born,” according to St. Hubbins, was executed with the help of a miniature scale of the mysterious rock formation that hung from a wheeled garment rack and wore a jockstrap. Of course, a pair of dancing midgets served to make the scenario all the more eerie.
Surprise guest Elvis Costello, looking subdued in a black suit and shades, joined the satirical heavy metal heroes midset for their early tune “Gimme Some Money” with little flourish, dutifully playing second fiddle to the group’s over-the-top Flying V guitar. He left the stage with little more than a mumbled “thank you.”
Costello wasn’t the only guest of St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Tufnel (Christopher Guest), and Smalls (Harry Shearer) last night. Paul Shaffer (who played Artie Fufkin in the band’s 1984 mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap”) bumped Caucasian Jeffery Vanston from the keyboards to pound the ivories on the final encore “Big Bottom,” joined by “Late Show with David Letterman” bandmate Will Lee on bass. Jazz-fusion guitarist Hiram Bullock emerged for “Break Like the Wind,” the title track of Spinal Tap’s second album, and once more for the finale jam.
Tufnel wielded a double-necked guitar for Tap’s first hit, “(Listen to the) Flower People,” and broke into an absurdly emotive solo of orgasmic twitching to mix things up. Other concert highlights included “Back From the Dead,” a new song penned by “master bassist” Smalls, “Rainy Day Sun,” a tune hearkening back to the group’s early days as the Thamesmen (formerly the New Originals after changing their name from the Originals).
The crowd, which included Oasis’ Gallagher brothers, Jamie Lee Curtis and “Dawson’s Creek” actress Michelle Williams, showed its approval of Spinal Tap’s satanic underpinning by raising fists and replicating the horns on the head of the devil himself with index and pinky fingers throughout the show.
Looking strangely familiar as an older, paunchier Spinal Tap, the Folksmen, a trio that claim to have almost diverted the British Invasion with their “most famous near-hit” “Old Joe’s Place,” opened the show. Their folksy cover of the Rolling Stones’ classic “Start Me Up,” strangely enough, closed their set.