invented approximately three centuries ago, yet it has never been hotter. Pizza
is having something of a moment right now. Beyoncé wore a head-to-toe pepperoni
pizza-printed ensemble to a raw, vegan eatery; Ellen DeGeneres – ever the
philanthropist – handed out slices to the undernourished, over-celebrated
A-list masses at the Oscars; and – most importantly – Macaulay Culkin is in a
comedy, avant-garde band called The Pizza Underground.
Italy’s tastiest export whilst simultaneously parodying New York’s eternal
icons of impenetrable cool, The Velvet Underground, is what the Pizza
Underground are all about.
in 2012 as a joke (obviously) a year later they were performing at tribute
shows for the late Lou Reed and filming a brilliant take off of Andy Warhol
chowing down on a Burger King Whopper for 1980s documentary 66 Scenes From America. Replace Warhol
with Culkin and the beef patty with a slice of pizza, and there you have it – an
intriguing pop art update. Macaulay’s conceptual consumption has received over
1.5 million views online.
just a scrappy eight track demo to their name, The Pizza Underground –
consisting of guitarist Matt Colbourn and vocalists/percussionists Austin
Kilham, Phoebe Kreutz, Deenah Vollmer and Macaulay Culkin – have now brazenly embarked on a world tour.
This week saw them touch down in the UK for the first time.
their debut show in the student town of Reading and free-of-charge at the
Oakford Social Club, The Pizza Underground Variety Hour was bound to be a
popular draw. So prevalent was local hype that the venue owners shut down the
joint during the evening to prepare for the increase in punters that lined the
street in waiting.
local newspaper reports ahead of the show printing the headline “Home Alone
Star Macaulay Culkin To Play Reading Gig” and illustrating the article with a
1990 image of the cherubic child star (as if Kevin McCallister himself would be
playing the show…), my fears of people turning up to simply ogle at the acting
prodigy were realised.
Culkin is, of course, a fascinating figure. A working actor aged 4, successful
enough to nigh-on-retire at 14, took action to protect his multi-millions from
his estranged father whilst still in his teens, married at 18, divorced by 20,
a long-time, true friend of Michael Jackson (Culkin is godfather to Jackson’s
two eldest children and took to the stand in 2004 to defend Michael against
allegations of child molestation), penned a semi-autobiographical novel about a
fraught life of fame and family strife, arrested for possession of controlled
substances, and a fixture of tabloid speculation over his health and lifestyle.
Yet since leaving his precocious childhood film roles behind he has lead as
quiet and unassuming life as possible, doing nothing to court the continual
intrigue that he inspires.
acts for the gig consist of individual members of the main band taking to the
stage for short comedic bursts; the highpoint being Phoebe Kreutz’s delightful
ditties which range in subject from Queen Elizabeth I to falling in love with a
Taco Bell cashier. The stage is prepared by a man who goes by the name of
Anchovy Warhol – complete with snow white wig, rounded spectacles and Breton
tee. As the visuals of a continually
spinning pepperoni pizza fades the arrival of the Pizza Underground is
majority of the band wander casually on armed with tambourines, glockenspiels,
pizza boxes and drum sticks and a lone guitar (they’re a percussive heavy act)
whilst Culkin, quite rightly, has two personal body guards assist him through
the crowd to the stage. It’s not an ego trip – the man obviously requires
protection from enthusiastic onlookers.
quickly work their way through their Velvet covers – ‘All The Pizza Parties’,
‘Pizza Girl’ and ‘Pizza Day’ (featuring the lyric “Oh such a pizza day, you
just keep the oven on”) are the clear highlights. Banter between songs sees
Macaulay extolling the virtues of UK chain Pizza Express, an excellent joke
from Phoebe about the similarity between a pizza delivery guy and a
gynaecologist, and the band having to check if the word “box” as a slang term
for female genitalia is in use on this side of the Atlantic to ensure their quips
about someone’s “greasy box” doesn't go unappreciated.
are two intervals in the set. Firstly, Mr Warhol and a supposed Liza Minnelli
look-alike don neon balaclavas to dance manically to Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t
Start The Fire’. Secondly, and brilliantly, musician Toby Goodshank dresses as Gus
Van Zant’s idea of Nirvana’s deceased frontman under the name “Kurt Cobained”.
He plays Nirvana songs in the past tense (“We were there then, entertained
us…). It’s subtle but hilarious and unfortunately lost on the rowdy audience.
night progresses it becomes evident that, actually, the entire point of the
band is wasted on some highly unenlightened members of the crowd. “Why are you
all wearing sunglasses?” one moron bellows. They’re pretending to be the Velvet
Underground, duh! “Why are you talking in that weird accent?” another demands
of Phoebe and her adopted German tone. She’s playing the part of Nico, duh! I
am assuming/hoping that these people know what pizza is otherwise this must all
be very frightening for them…
adds up to the fact that too many people in attendance are doing so to stare
and point their camera phones at dear Macaulay Culkin. I can’t help but feel
sorry for him as people fall over themselves to get a shot of him and get a
close-up gaze. I also feel utterly disgusted by some asshole both rude and
ignorant enough to yell out a libellous comment about Michael Jackson. Behind
his bug-eyed, blacked-out shades Culkin remains unfazed, wholly adapted to the
walking-spectacle treatment he is given.
So, what can one expect from seeing the Pizza
Underground live during the rest of their UK dates (which I encourage you to
secure a ticket for)? A helpful serving of self-aware comedy and laugh out loud
fun but with a mandatory side of idiots in the audience. Do as the band preach
and “take a bite of the wild slice. Chew, chew, chew, chew, chew, chew, chew,
night saw the London debut of Carl Barât’s latest band, The Jackals. Having
drafted his new trio of musicians – Billy
Tessio (guitar), Adam Claxton (bass) and Jay Bone (drums) – via the oh so
modern medium of a call-out on social media followed by rounds of traditional
auditions, it was time to put his new recruits on display.
tightly packed audience at XOYO, Barât and his Jackals kicked into action with
the sheer self-assurance of a new song (‘Victory Gin’) which saw the front man
professing, “We’re afraid of no one” and “I defy anyone to tell me that I’m
wrong”. It was a strong start followed up by another compositional unveiling of
‘Storm Is Coming’ which stuck more closely
to the chugging energy of Dirty Pretty Things rather than the punkish storm of
receptive as the crowd were to The Jackals and their new material, they were
still primarily in attendance to worship their Libertine overlord. As the spiking
guitar intro of ‘Deadwood’ was struck any thoughts of a sedate, head-nodding
evening were knocked cold out of the venue as Carl’s devotees formed a dense
mosh. Other Dirty Pretty Things numbers, including ‘Bang Bang You’re Dead’ and
‘Gin and Milk’, sent them into an equal tizzy which then boiled over into an
out-and-out frenzy when the likes of ‘Death On The Stairs’ and ‘Up The Bracket’
were given a run through.
while Carl mirrored the energy of the audience, thrashing himself around the
narrow confines of the stage and often having to jostle for space against
Tessio. Even a solo acoustic spot of the show was turned into a raucous aside
as the undulating tempo of old Libertines favourite ‘The Ballad Of Grimaldi’
sped up to a fever pitch.
may have been a bit of a start-stop affair thanks to a few technical issues and
just one roadie on staff, but the set list was expertly paced with unknown
material nestled between past hits. Carl himself seemed happier than ever to be
back in a band environment. It’s telling that ‘Run With The Boys’ was the only
number from his solo album to be revisited. He clearly thrives with a solid
band behind him and he has certainly found that with The Jackals who seemed
eager to please the boss.
this lone live showing it’s uncertain if chemistry exists between this new line
up and whether anything more than firm musicianship is holding Carl Barât and
The Jackals together. But since they manage to finish the closing ‘I Get Along’
as the stage succumbs to invaders and fans get a little handsy with Carl, it’s
enough to be going on with for now.