In keeping with the rock & roll clich, heavy-metal karaoke band KNAC/DC are all about the lead singer. The quartet-plus-one (MC Danny Derany keeps things moving but doesn't play an instrument) has the chops to rapidly flip the switch from metal subgenres such as speed metal, glam and hard rock. But no one cares about guitar solos or drum intros when a wasted longhair wearing a sleeveless jean jacket (in a non-ironic way!) rips through Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock" like he's the second coming of Dee Snider.
KNAC/DC— in addition to Derany, there's drummer Tim Bender, guitarists Phil Williams and Paul Lopez, and bassist Joe Puccio—know all sorts of tunes by such classic metal artists as Black Sabbath, Van Halen, AC/DC, Metallica, Motörhead, Mötley Crüe, Pantera, Quiet Riot and Slayer. Whether the band sounds good is largely determined by whoever's singing, Bender says. "The show is trying to follow the singer. It's like an improvisational heavy-metal gig. We really have to listen to figure out where they're at. If they start the verse early, we have to start the verse early."
Metal is more than power chords and head-banging—it's rock & roll theater at its best. More important than starting a verse at the right time is stage presence. You can fuck up all you want; just make sure you look good doing it. Other than the "you win some/lose some/it's all the same to me" part, no one really knows what Lemmy growls in Motörhead's "Ace of Spades," and it doesn't matter. Throw your hands in the air, make the obligatory sign of the beast with your fingers and run around. If you have long hair, whip it around. That always works.
The usually subdued crowd at Alex's Bar, complete with the very un-metal accouterments of neck tattoos and greasy pompadours, might let weak front men slide, but not KNAC/DC fans. They mean business. Especially the girl who sings Dio's "Holy Diver" at every gig. If anyone could replace a lead singer in a self-named band, it'd be her. During KNAC/DC's May performance, a somewhat-average-looking guy (average considering much of the audience looked straight out of Heavy Metal Parking Lot) took the stage and out-Ozzy'd Ozzy on Sabbath's "War Pigs." A few leapfrogs, water buckets and "We love you"s, and this guy would be getting a call from Tony Iommi.
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Like all good entertainers, KNAC/DC save the best for last. The band splits its show into two sets. The first is when the timid, the sober and the guys looking to get laid dig into well-known metal songs such as "No One Like You," "Detroit Rock City," "Shout at the Devil" and "Cum on Feel the Noize." The second set, Bender says, is when the booze starts talking and the diehards start singing. "That's when all the cool songs are played. All the rad Metallica and Slayer songs get picked at the very end because somebody all of a sudden goes for it. They've seen at least 15 or 20 people go up there, and they know they can do at least that."
Unlike a karaoke machine, KNAC/DC are limited by each member's knowledge. The group can play approximately 70 songs, but some are a little rusty thanks to frequent requests for "Enter Sandman" and "Welcome to the Jungle" getting in the way of more obscure tunes such as Slayer's "Jesus Saves" and "South of Heaven." Remembering six dozen songs you didn't write sounds difficult, but Bender says the hardest part of being in a group like KNAC/DC is choosing what songs to play. The major issue the band has in song selection is finding tunes random people can reasonably sing that are recognizable to a large crowd. This means having to learn songs that don't quite mesh with the five members' musical tastes; KNAC/DC prefer the hard stuff over pop-metal acts such as Poison and Warrant. "We're not a cover band," Bender clarifies. "We're a karaoke band. They're picking the songs we play."
Luckily for KNAC/DC's rotating cast of screamers, the group can welcome you to the jungle and run with the devil—and, indeed, shout at him, too.
KNAC/DC PERFORM AT ALEX'S BAR, 2913 E. ANAHEIM ST., LONG BEACH, (562) 434-8292; WWW.ALEXSBAR.COM. SAT., 10 P.M. FREE. 21+.