Pizza Underground live: Macaulay Culkin’s meme-band sends ’em home hungry


Macaulay Culkin and Deenah Vollmer of the Pizza Underground perform at the Black Cat in Washington, D.C. (Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post)

Step into the Black Cat on Friday night and take a whiff. Do you smell pizza? Or just the faint aroma of beer, cleaning product and the perverse commitment to a three-month-old joke?

Tonight’s headliner is the Pizza Underground, a Velvet Underground cover band that transposes Lou Reed’s lyrics into pizza poetry. The show is sold out because one of the band’s members is former child actor Macaulay Culkin, now 33 years old, Jesus’s age, with the hair and beard to match.

It’s been 24 years since Culkin starred in “Home Alone” and 110 days since the Pizza Underground released its viral medley of deadpan covers, transforming Reed’s ruminations on the urban gutter into ditties about pepperoni and stuffed crust. The question remains: Which Culkin vehicle will endure?

“You want to end the joke before it goes stale,” Pizza Underground glockenspielist Pheobe Kreutz told an interviewer back in December. And now here they are, on stop 19 of a 20-date U.S. tour. The gag is so dead, it’s almost funny again.

Somewhere, James Franco and Shia LaBeouf are wishing they had thought of this first.

Somewhere, Weird Al and the Dead Milkmen are wondering if they thought of this first.

Somewhere, a young couple from Edgewood is thinking that $140 might have been too much to pay for this gig.

They’re in the back of the club, over by the merch table where the band is selling tote bags, cassettes, T-shirts and pizza pendants. With tickets originally set at $15, the show sold out quickly, forcing Heather Cosner, 26, and her boyfriend, Tom Thurlow, 27, to turn to StubHub, where they shelled out $70 each. No biggie, they say. They grew up on “Home Alone” and seem totally cool with not getting what they paid for. “We’re expecting it to be horrible,” Cosner says cheerfully.

A little before 11 p.m., the band ambles onto the club’s main stage and the horrible hilarity begins. They hand pizzas out to fans in the front row and launch into a medley-turned-meme. “Beginning to See the Light” is now “I’m Beginning to Eat the Slice.” “These Days” becomes “Cheese Days.” And “I’m Waiting For the Man” is now “I’m Waiting for Delivery Man.”

They play it like a campfire singalong. Or maybe a stonery dorm room singalong. Culkin, looking healthy and happy, plays shekere and a kazoo shaped like a toy trumpet. Matt Colbourn strums an electric guitar, Austin Kilham plays tambourine, Kreutz plink-plonks her glockenspiel and Deenah Vollmer keeps time by thwacking a drumstick on a box from Manny and Olga’s, the pizza counter a few doors down 14th Street. Everyone wears black sunglasses and a guy dressed as Andy Warhol looms in the background, snapping pictures for Instagram.

To the side of the stage, a striking brunette in a polka dot blouse sings along to an adaptation of Reed’s “Perfect Day” — “It’s such a pizza day /I’m glad I spent it with food.” It’s Culkin’s girlfriend, “All My Children” star Jordan Lane Price, and later, Culkin calls her up for a duet, introducing her as “Edie Breadstick.”

But a band singing exclusively about pizza can get tiresome, so there are other cameos, including one from a dance squad that bounces around to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire” while a slide show of cat photos flickers on a screen in the background.

Much funnier: A guest turn from opening act Toby Goodshank, who sings Nirvana songs in the past tense as “Kurt Cobained.” (“There we were then /Entertained us,” goes the hook of “Smelled Like Teen Spirit.”)

And after about 45 minutes of yuk-yuck-you-had-to-be-there, smiley fans finally funnel out of the club with a story they can tell at every party for the rest of their lives. Only a handful seem unimpressed, explaining that the gig was every bit as stupid as they expected and, no, they didn’t pay to get in.

Edward Olivares, 22, leaves clutching the pizza box the band used as its snare drum, now riddled with drumstick holes. It’s a nifty souvenir, but he missed out on the actual pizza the band handed out early in the set, so he’s headed over to Manny and Olga’s for a slice.

You know the old line about the Velvets? The one about how they didn’t sell a ton of records, but everybody who bought one started a band?

Tonight, the Pizza Underground will be remembered for something different. They played songs about pizza for way too many people, and it made those people very hungry.

Chris Richards became the Post's pop music critic in 2009. He has covered D.I.Y. house shows, White House concerts, go-go and Gaga.
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