I walk into Manchester Metropolitan University’s largest music venue – the Academy – greeted by fans, young and old, dressed in lycra, leather and long, flowing hair, held back by bandanas. To the sound of Winger opening the night, one fan makes ‘devil horns’ at me. I slip through the crowd towards one of the bars to get a better look at the support band, and see all three guitarists jamming together, back-to-back, front and centre.
The sound of wailing lead guitar and shrieking pinch-harmonics lights up the faces of the metalheads around me, who frantically gush over the instrumental skill on display. And before anyone can react, the flash of a red vest and threaded leather runs across the stage, and Michael Starr – Steel Panther’s frontman – joins Crobot on stage. The crowd loves it.
The only pause in the energy arrives when the lead singer of Crobot raises his hand to begin a speech. He announces that it is Michael Starr’s birthday, and orchestrates the crowd into a heartfelt, if not humorous, chorus of ‘Happy Birthday to You’. A cake appears and candles are blown out, and everyone cheers.
Finally, after time enough to grab a beer and settle in for the real reason we were all here, the purple lights dim, gently illuminating the giant metallic panther, displayed across the back wall of the Academy.
Michael Starr returns, following the rest of his band, and they explode theatrically into their first song – the iconic Eyes of a Panther. Prancing around the stage, Starr points at those in the front row, lifting his hands to his chest and animatedly mouthing “nice boobs” to someone I can’t see. This becomes a recurring theme, and I can’t tell how much is ironic and how much is four old-school Vegas boys bringing the energy of the Sin City to rainy old England.
When Steel Panther stops to address the crowd, they’re first greeted with screams, cheers and horns in the air. “Nice job, Stix,” guitarist Satchel shouts back to the drummer, and is joined by a, “yeah, nice job Stix,” and a “good job.” Satchel and Starr do their comedy bit, hyping up the crowd, deliberating that Manchester is apparently “in the top…seven…cities for metal…in this part of…England,” and receive a mixture of confused cheers, ironic boos and knowing laughs. Satchel then addresses Starr’s birthday, announcing that he is also the band’s ‘employee of the month’.
Several mildly offensive jokes later, and after a narrow dodge past the threat of a hair metal cover of ‘Champagne Supernova’ – the possibility of which made me both recoil and wonder – Steel Panther continued their sexually-charged performance, including audience favourites such as ‘Asian Hooker’, ‘Friends With Benefits’, and ‘Gloryhole’ as their encore closer.
Stood by the side, one man expressed his excitement at my first time seeing his favourite music. He told me that his teenage / young adult kids also love it and that it is great to see hair metal – which was famously popularised in the 80s – still being enjoyed by fans of all ages.
Personally, I can’t tell how much of Steel Panther’s music and humour is ironic. Does this kind of performance stand up in today’s social landscape? Is it acceptable to have a young Asian girl dance topless to ‘Asian Hooker’, while pulling her eyes back, and flanked by four older men? If young people can see the merit in not taking ourselves too seriously, and poking fun at dated standards through irony, then maybe it does.
One thing is certain, however – Steel Panther are keeping a classic era alive on big stages all around the world. The band are nothing if not authentic, and their love for face-melting is not going away any time soon.
Photos: Courtney Turner
Steel Panther pages