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Glancing at the cluster of faded Motley Crüe tour T-shirts and alarming acid-wash jeans gathered outside McClure's in Tustin last Thursday, I turned to my photographer, James Bunoan, and heaved the heaviest of sighs. "This. Is. Going to be. Terrible," I whined, hoping he would take pity and suggest we hit the road toward other, more, erm, inviting environs.
Contrary to what you might expect, we weren't there to do a piece on the county's best hidden karaoke dives; rather, our pals Dave and Chas from Level One Promotions had invited us to the grand opening of Live Wire, their new Thursday-night '80s hair-metal club. At the time, recalling they were the same duo responsible for the superfun Thriller Wednesdays at Quan's in Orange, I had immediately slugged Live Wire in the Clubbed! calendar—forgetting that above all else on my list of most-loathed loathables (besting, even, water-park restrooms and summer squash), '80s hair-metal reigns supreme.
Chas greeted us at the door and asked if we'd ever seen Metal Skool, an LA-based cover band and the evening's main attraction. No? Well, then. "Just wait and see," he enthused.
We couldn't wait.
Once inside McClure's, however, the bar's brilliant ambiance disarmed me. It was a barfly's dream, with its red-leather booths, dangerously low lighting, velvet-curtained stage, inviting spot-lit dance floor and fantastically kitsch framed head shots of unknown Z-list entertainers. Saddling up at the bar, I ordered James a vodka-pineapple from the charming Dottie, whose name actually isn't Dottie—but should be—and whose smile lines and decidedly Midwestern, all-the-time-in-the-world gait were a vision of pure dive-bar Americana.
The music? It wasn't half-bad. In fact, considering I'd expected one ear-drum-piercing, meedly meedly meedly meeee guitar solo after another, the relatively low volume—read: no smiling and nodding is necessary—actually made those familiar hits from Poison, Guns N' Roses and Def Leppard downright enjoyable.
By the time Metal Skool took the stage—around midnight or so, I'd guess; I'd been too busy helping James get buzzed on vodka-pineapples to notice—my mind was made up. Even if the band totally blew, I reasoned, Live Wire had proved itself worthy of at least being a 10-till-midnight pre-party destination.
Minutes later, watching from the back of the bar, I actually grew giddy with anticipation as four men sporting eyeliner, lipstick, earrings, spandex and impressively styled wigs launched into an almost-too-perfect mock-rock shtick. "New wave music sucks my fucking ball sac!" the lead singer shouted from the stage to a bevy of hoots, hollers and roars—even from the meticulously groomed hipsters—before declaring, "Heavy metal is still alive in Tustin!"
Glancing around the room, it appeared I wasn't the only one entranced by Metal Skool's dead-on covers and clever banter. Sure, their antics were obvious—the bassist paused midsong to check himself out in the mirror; the lead singer and guitarist preyed on each other's fragile egos (guitarist, on the lead singer: "He's a fat David Lee Roth." Singer, in reply: "No. I'm a skinny Vince Neil!"); gratuitous guitar solos; choreographed mugging for James' camera—but not lame.
Still, for anyone in the audience who wasn't enjoying the charade—and there weren't many, from what I could tell; even James was laughing—the band had one final offering: a wicked, undeniably brilliant attack on modern pop music, based on a theory holding that everyone from REM to Sugar Ray had stolen from Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again." Alternating between Whitesnake and Sugar Ray's "Fly," Weezer's "The Sweater Song," REM's "Stand," Smashbox's "All Star," even Tom Petty's "Don't Come Around Here No More," the band demonstrated—irrefutably, almost academically—what I had always been too proud to admit: Whitesnake fucking ruled.
Performance art? Not quite. But, like those who played McClure's before them—only to remain there indefinitely, immortalized in framed, black-and-white infamy—Metal Skool are bona fide Z-list entertainers. With hair to kill for.Live Wire at McClure's, 14401 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 544-1995. Every Thurs., 10 p.m. $10. 18+.
Were you born to walk alone? Invite me out! Egriley@ocweekly.com.
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