by Lee Strubinger
It’s hard to single out why any person would go to a show featuring The Pizza Underground, Macaulay Culkin's pizza-themed Velvet Underground parody band.
Maybe some went because they’re big fans of The Velvet Underground. Or maybe they like Culkin and his work as a child actor. Perhaps they really like pizza and thought: “What the hell? Why not?”
Regardless of why, people show up. In fact the Marquis Theater in downtown Denver was packed for this hour-long greasy, cheesy rock comedy show topped with pepperoni[i].
I must admit I walked into the show knowing very little about The Pizza Underground. I knew they got booed off stage during their first performance at Dot to Dot Festival in Nottingham, but I figured they must have worked out the kinks in their performance to continue touring.
Any VU fan with a sense of humor like myself might find The Pizza Underground a unique way to celebrate the discography of one of rock n’ roll’s greatest bands. Others may cry “Too soon!” following the death of Lou Reed in late 2013.
The PU's musicianship is slopping and discordant. Admittedly, only one member of the band knows how to play a guitar. The others just happened to vaguely resemble members of the band — while another beats a pizza box with a drum stick. The group actually sang a melody admitting their position as, essentially, a joke on stage — which should have been assumed.
But Culkin and company are definitely Velvet Underground fans and have done their research. Songs were re-imagined in the key of pizza: classics like “Stephanie Says” and "All Tomorrow's Parties" became “Papa Johns Says” and “All the Pizza Parties.”
Most songs were mashed together into a medley: “Beginning To Eat the Slice” ("Beginning to See the Light”) into “Take a Bite of the Wild Slice” ("Walk on the Wild Side") and “Half a Bite of Crust” ("Satellite of Love"), etc. The pizza theme was so immaculate to the point of having Anchovy Warhol projecting strange visuals on a white sheet behind the stage.
Without Culkin, The Pizza Underground would probably be nothing more than an inside joke between some friends in Brooklyn. Most of the crowd grew up with him on the television. Culkin’s iconic image as a child actor performing in a pizza-themed comedy rock band creates this pop culture splash so strange and far-out that one can’t help but be insanely intrigued by the concept.
And that makes Culkin’s strange odyssey from child actor to VU parody less strange and more brilliant. Because, essentially, he’s traveling the country, and the world, drinking beer on stage, eating pizza and having fun with his friends while making some cash. It’s some reverse-ironic mixture where seemingly we’re supposed to be taking Culkin’s ambitions seriously when he’s not even doing it himself.
And therein lies the beauty. Too many things are taken seriously in today’s day and age when you can just kick back and have a slice.
[i] In fact, I was under the impression The Pizza Underground were the headliners for the evening. But when I received my ticket at the box office window, the stub said “Har Mar Superstar” in bigger letters over other band names. After seeing their set, it’s quite obvious The Pizza Underground are not a headlining act. A quarter of the crowd left once the set was over. Though minor, the headliner issue mostly added confusion to the already wafting scent of assorted slices baking in the theater’s oven.