First up, let’s manage our expectations: this is Steel Panther, the cock-rock resurrectionists, doing a live acoustic set and it is no MTV Unplugged in New York, an album that still, after 20 years, sets the benchmark for rock bands going acoustic. Why the metal “parody” group decided to go acoustic is a question that will confound music historians for generations to come, as producing a satisfying acoustic set poses major risks for any band, let alone one that relies on the bombast of amplified guitars to carry their image, and Live From Lexxi’s Mom’s Garage is a record that runs the full gamut from good to ugly.
The Good: Steel Panther prove themselves capable musicians, solidly performing their songs without the trappings of an electric performance to hide behind. Michael Starr provides suitably rock vocals without going overboard and seeming out of place against Satchel’s smooth guitar playing and the solid rhythmic backing of Lexxi Foxx, on bass, and Stix Zadinia, on drums. The technical producers and recording engineers did an impeccable job of capturing the performance with incredible clarity, and they are the unsung heroes of the record.
The Bad: Despite performing solidly, the band only perform their electric songs acoustically, with minimal effort taken to rework the songs into something other than hair-metal sans the amplification. This may work to show that they don’t need to hide their playing behind walls of gain or effects, but something more is required to re-present a rock based song in a softer musical form.
The Ugly: Without the histrionics of their amplified performances it becomes clear that the Emperor has no clothes. The hair-metal pastiche relies so much on the sound that, stripped of at least half their schtick, Steel Panther are exposed as middle aged men writing songs from the perspective of the stunted sexual fantasies of a 15 year old boy. Without singing guitar solos, flying falsetto vocals, a wall of sound, and flashy visual antics to distract the ear and hold the listeners attention, the questionable – and saying questionable instead of abhorrent is being generous – lyrical content stands out like a skid mark on a pair of brand new tighty-whities.
I can hear a call rising from the crowd: “Steel Panther are a comedy band! They’re parodying cock-rock and hair-metal!” I might have bought that for a dollar with their first album, Feel the Steel, but after 3 albums Steel Panther still seem stuck with juvenile preoccupations. At best this represents a personal immaturity and/or a failure to develop and grow as songwriters, and at worst it reveals an adherence to outdated worldviews, hidden in plain sight under the guise of comedy or parody. Stripped of musical adornment, and considering that the lyrical content is constant across their discography, songs like Fat Girl (Thar She Blows), Weenie Ride, and Bukkake Tears would seem to make the latter option increasingly likely. Steel Panther are starting to feel like they were left behind when the grunge movement put paid to the macho posturing of the cock-rock/hair-metal scene and the music world, and broader society, simply moved on.
With Live From Lexxi’s Mom’s Garage, Steel Panther have failed to musically expand their oeuvre, or broaden their appeal to non-fans. Only time will tell whether Steel Panther will develop and expand on their brand of juvenile humour, or stagnate further and fade into obscurity like the musical style they simultaneously parody and pay homage to.