The Warfield, San Francisco, June 10th 2001
As I passed through the doors of The Warfield on a recent summer Sunday, I had the distinct feeling that I was there to observe some hallowed religious ceremony. The legendary English rockers Spinal Tap, sadly touring with the frequency of Papal visits these days, were in town on their 'Back From The Dead' tour. Having missed their 1992 show here due to unforeseen apathy on my part, I was anxious to catch up with the 'bad blokes ' of rock.
Tap entered the pantheon of rock legends in the aftermath of the seminal 1984 behind the scenes rockumentary 'This is Spinal Tap', which followed the whirlwind of publicity surrounding the release of their classic album 'Smell The Glove'. Eight years later they were on the road again in support of "Break Like the Wind". The record was greeted with arctic reviews but astonishingly, the tour generated sold out shows around the country. Fast-forward another nine years, and the faithful are shuffling in to worship at the alter of Tap.
The only three original members of Tap - David St. Hubbins (Vocals/Guitar), Nigel Tufnel (vocals/guitar/spoken word) and Derek Smalls (bass) - were ably assisted by C.J. Vanston on keys and a very nervous-looking Skippy Skuffleton on drums. The band began their sonic assault with, of course, "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight". It was immediately clear that the lads were playing at the top of their game and we knew we were in for a rocktastic night. In quick succession we were blasted with "Hell Hole", "Heavy Duty" and a new funked up version of "Sex Farm", a song that still conjures scenes of innocent rustic love, "Scratching in your henhouse / Sniffing at your feedbag /Slippin' out your back door /Leavin' my spray".
One of the undoubted highlights of the show was a truly haunting rendition of 'Stonehenge'. Tufnel's Joycean introduction bringing tears to many-an-eye in the hushed theater as we all imagined how they must have played, 'the children of Stonehenge'. We were held equally spellbound by the newer 'Clam Caravan', during which we were treated to a glimpse of Tufnel's mastery of the didgeridoo. This was followed by a moving rendition of feminist anthem 'Bitch School', a song often misunderstood in these days of Political Correctness. All the rumours about St. Hubbins' vocal problems were quickly dispelled as he crooned; ".You whine and you beg, when I'm busy, you wanna dance with my leg" like Ozzy channeling Marvin Gaye.
Local upstart Joe Satriani was invited to join the band for an electric version of 'Break Like The Wind'. He was clearly in awe of Tufnel's chops as they traded licks, but managed to keep up. And just when it seemed that the primal force of Tap was spent, our Limey friends delivered the finale that had to be. Yes, a roof-raising version of 'Big Bottom', during which the boys were joined onstage by a bevy of buxom groupies for moral support. "Talk about mud flaps", these ladies certainly had 'em.
Spinal Tap has endured by giving the fans what they want, most of the time anyway. In fact the show was sponsored by 'Endure' a leading maker of adult incontinence products. It's nice to see a band that is oft labeled morose and musically elitist by some, poke fun at their own longevity. We can only hope that the double live album that is sure to follow captures the sights sounds and smells of a great evening.
Who says you can't make it through a Spinal Tap review without mentioning 'eleven'?
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