Trio Taps Into Its 'Spinal' Legacy

By Alex Baldinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 8, 2009

There won't be any spontaneously combusting drummers nor will the amplifiers need to be cranked to 11, but make no mistake: This is Spinal Tap. Or at least the men who brought the super-group to life.

Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer are set to bring the ingenious spirit of their heavy-metal creation to the Warner Theatre on Wednesday for "Unwigged & Unplugged," an acoustic performance by the three comic actor-musicians known to millions as guitarists Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins and bassist Derek Smalls from the 1984 Rob Reiner film "This Is Spinal Tap."

"No drummers are injured in the making of this tour," Shearer, 65, deadpanned before a recent show in Jacksonville, Fla.

The acoustic format of the show would seem more conducive to the material performed by the Folksmen, the mock folk band the trio portrayed in Guest's 2003 film "A Mighty Wind" than it is to Tap's ear-shredding solos.

But it is the trio's satirical instincts that receive top billing, whether the group is performing Tap's epic druid anthem "Stonehenge" or the Folksmen's tragicomic two-step "Blood on the Coal."

"We love the idea of being able to hopscotch around the oeuvre, as the French so foppishly put it," McKean, 61, said of the show's genre-bending format before a recent show in Houston.

The Spinal Tap legacy has endured the past 25 years thanks largely to the success of the performers outside their roles in the band, Guest said from Jacksonville.

"There are, I think, an equal number of people who are fans of what we individually have done, whether it's the movies, or Harry Shearer and his radio show and 'Simpsons' work," Guest, 61, said, referring to his work as writer and director of cult favorites "Best in Show" and "Waiting for Guffman," among others. "It becomes much more than the Spinal Tap experience," he added.

Guest, McKean and Shearer have collaborated musically for 35 years, and although they will perform at the Warner without the wigs and codpieces that helped make them famous, the interplay among the close friends will be on full display.

"Some nights it's like we're in a living room, playing as friends, but with a thousand people screaming," Shearer said.

As Spinal Tap, the trio will release "Back From the Dead" in June, an album featuring studio versions of the songs from "This Is Spinal Tap" and nine new recordings.

They have no plans to launch a world tour as Spinal Tap, only a single performance at London's Wembley Arena this summer, which makes "Unwigged" the best chance to see the trio perform stateside in the near future. If nothing else, the acoustic tour shows that, a quarter-century later, the relevance of Spinal Tap's satirical songs has outlived most of what they originally skewered.

"Spinal Tap enduring as it has is a wonderful kind of surprise and a rebuke to the idiots in Hollywood who almost turned down the idea of making the movie in the first place," Shearer said.

Perhaps most important, it shows that the men's bond is as strong as ever and that despite all being older than 60, they have no plans to stop making people laugh.

"We can go on the road and play at Wembley and then go out to dinner as regular people," Guest said. "We're not forced to destroy the hotel room."

Unwigged & Unplugged Warner Theatre, 13th and E streets NW. 877-598-8696. Wednesday at 8 p.m. $39.50-$65.

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