The marquee read "Fast Times at Coney Island High: America's #1 Fun All-American Cover Band." Those who knew got the joke, and God help the ones who wandered in clueless.
The place: New York's Coney Island High nightclub in the East Village. The night: Sunday. The occasion: "All fun, all covers, no original music guaranteed," according to the invitation, which listed the players as "Keith 'Disque 9' Fancy on guitar, Moby Moby on bass and Mystery Guy [Duke Mushroom, one of the founders of the New York-based dance performance group "Stomp"] on drums." The cost: free, or very cheap.
The artist behind the not-so-pseudo pseudonym: Moby.
Never one to limit himself artistically, Moby -- most recently reincarnated as a metalhead and once considered the face of techno -- has apparently moved on to his cheesy '80s cover band period. Opening with a hard-core cover of Twisted Sister's radio hit "We're Not Gonna Take It," the #1 Fun All-American Cover Band treated the sweaty crowd at Coney Island to more than an hour and a half of bizarre covers and long-forgotten hits, most of them unrehearsed, many of them sloppier than you could imagine.
All wearing identical black button-down shirts, matching black suits, skinny white ties and oversized eyeglasses, it was easy to spot Moby and his fellow band members as they drank beers and mingled with the audience before the show. In addition to Moby, Mushroom and Fancy, the group that took the stage included Paul Yates, a friend of Moby's, on tambourine.
"It was like a wedding band gone wrong," said musician John Hancock, who witnessed the whole fabulously awful thing. "But in a wonderful way. It was almost like a wedding band who'd gotten all pissed-off at each other and decided to each do their own thing."
"If anyone knows the lyrics or chords better than we do, come on up," announced Fancy as the band warmed up for the show, which included unique takes on, get this, Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle," Bob Seger's "Night Moves," Billy Idol's "Dancing with Myself," Joan Jett's "I Love Rock And Roll" and Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler."
Hancock, who described the vibe between the musicians as "very haphazard, mostly straightforward, but definitely bizarre," said most of the audience seemed to be in on the joke, and loving it.
If it came from the '80s, the All-American Band covered it, and with great energy: the usually reserved Moby howled the lyrics and paraded around the stage like fluff pop star Rick Springfield conducting a cheerleading rally. Like a mirror facing a mirror, the band was obviously a parody of itself; it was like listening to a cover band cover a cover band.
Shelby Meade, of Nasty Little Man, publicists for Moby, had her own unique take on the show, which also included covers of "99 Luft Balloons" by Nena and Guns 'n Roses' MTV hit "Sweet Child O' Mine." "Hot. Sweaty. Uncontrollable dancing. Horrible at moments and breathtaking at others," quoth Meade. Like the invitation promised, "come in and let us lay you down with the covers."
"I've seen a Russian band do American cover songs," one friend shouted to me over the thump-thump-thump of bass during Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline." "They didn't speak any English," he yelled, "They were singing phonetically, and they were better than this band."
Others in the audience were less amused, especially with Fancy's vocals, consistently flat and off-key. "I'm a musician," an annoyed friend commented. "And this is just gross to watch."
During the entire length of his mule-like crooning of Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart," a female audience member held a lighter aloft dangerously close to the singer's face. Whether this was a sign of adoration or a threat was unclear.
For the brave who stayed through to the end of the 25-song set, there was a rousing, bongo-accompanied version of Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy." The future of the #1 All-American Cover Band seems unclear. Conflicting stories abounded after the performance.
"We're going to L.A. next week to start recording," Mushroom enthused after the show.
"At Ocean Way Studios," added Moby.
"It's just going to be fun recording party songs," Mushroom continued. "To make a lot of money for our musician friends who did the songs."
A source at Nasty Little Man thought differently. "L.A.? What? No, Moby will be in Europe next week."
But what about this record? "I don't know anything about it," she said with a conciliatory giggle. "You know Moby..."
Was it all a dream? Was the band just having fun, or was this a disturbing sign of things to come?
"It's always fun to be terrible," said Moby brightly after the triumphant show.
(ATN Senior writer Gil Kaufman contributed to this report.)