Decibel’s serious about the extremely extreme. Sure, we have a fuckin’ taste-making parrot. Okay, and we have a pun-tificating theme song by Asphyx (“Deathibel”). Still, if you set aside every wink-wink-nod-nod joke sanctioned by dB, at its core there’s a serious devotion to the loud ‘n’ heavy. So when Mac Sabbath comes into town, you have a decision to make. Should Decibel cover a tribute band? Considering a tribute band saved the night at Choosing Death Fest, I say sure. Also, when something's even peripherally related to Black Sabbath – the legends behind our consensus #1 doom album of all time (as well as #4, #11, #16, #22…) – you gotta give those rhetorical questions an electric funeral and dive in to the experience.
For those unfamiliar, Mac Sabbath are a self-described “drive thru metal" band who rewrite Black Sabbath songs to condemn the fast food industry. But they really sell their tickets by dressing up as bizarro versions of characters populating the fantastical land beyond the iconic Golden Arches. Full disclosure: Mac Sabbath's extremely careful about not actually uttering the name of the fast food empire they lampoon, so I’ll be equally cautious so my face isn’t hammer-smashed with a cease and desist letter.
So here are our players: A yellow 'n' red clown imitating Ozzy on the mic. A skulleted purple abomination blasting out bass lines, jokingly referred to as I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Butler. Slayer Mac Cheeze on guitar, complete with a burger noggin fastened with Motörhead’s Snaggletooth tusks. Also, a drummer with classic burglar stripes and Peter Criss cat makeup (named Cat-Burglar, of course).
So Mac Sabbath rumbled into Philadelphia on Saturday 2nd as part of their Clown Power tour. (the second most popular clown-themed music event this year). An impressive crowd proved they were down with the clown, filtering into Underground Arts to watch opener Clownvis Presley perform his long-form karaoke by way of parlor magic vaudeville act. Bedazzled like Elvis during his final chapter, what Clownvis lacks in a catchy pseudonym he makes up for in charisma and showmanship. Surprisingly, there wasn't a lot of Presley’s music on display. He crooned through a snot-slick Dead Kennedys rendition of “Viva Las Vegas,” belted out an inspired “In the Ghetto”/Fresh Prince theme mash-up, and closed with “Dixieland.” But for the most part, Clownvis stuck to tongue-in-cheek TV themes. If you were really thirsting for Elvis with a red nose swingin' his hips to the Golden Girls theme, this is definitely your jam. What could have been forty minutes of filler with a less confident performer turned into a crowd-pleasing set of droll weirdness. This audience was fully on-board with warm-up irreverence, and treated Clownvis like The King.
So I waited for Mac Sabbath to take the stage, prepared for an evening of riff worship and food puns. For better or worse, that’s exactly what was served up on a plastic tray. There’s a lot of them, so I’ll just place vocalist Ronald Osbourne's most memorable wordplay here: CinnaBon Jovi, Spinal Tapplebees, Iggy Popeye’s Chicken, Dairy Queensrÿche, Burger King Diamond, Almond Joy Division, Bauhaus of Pancakes, Agent Orange Julius, Dead KenneDenny’s, Leftöver Crackerbarrell, and seriously there were at least a dozen more, not counting song titles.
Sirens and maniacal laughter ushered in “War Pigs” parody “More Ribs” as fans clawed to the front of the stage to take photos of the costumes. Mac Sabbath’s members aren’t averse to mugging for the cameras, hot-dogging with extended tongues and triumphant poses for Instagram. But despite the carnival colors and goofy gimmickry, those riffs come first. As long as it’s in reverent hands, you can dress Iommi’s eternal magic in any god damn disguise you want. No bullshit though, Mac Sabbath can play, and the Cat Burglar was the unsung hero of the evening. While his fills don’t have Bill Ward’s impulsive spark, he pounded out sweat-soaked, urgent rhythms that elevated the set to more than an inherently watchable cos-play musical. While his pun game is top-shelf, Ronald Osbourne has a severely limited vocal range and a shtick that can wear thin. If you think a stiff cackle after every verse, song, and joke sounds like it gets old, it does. But just like those SNL sketches that seem desperate for laughs until you find yourself chuckling along, the frontclown’s dedication to his character persevered. Some one-liners bombed, some notes went sour. But Osbourne would flap around the stage, use an enormous straw as a beer bong, and win the crowd back faster than Morgan Spurlock puking out his lunch.
The truth is, Black Sabbath die-hards would all stop in the middle of rush-hour traffic to turn and respect a barely audible “Sweet Leaf” or “N.I.B.” riff (“Sweet Beef” and “N.I.B.B.L.E.” to these gents). But Mac Sabbath’s attention to detail is what truly executes their stratagem. As Osborne stands at the mic warbling “I am Frying Pan,” steam screams from a grill of stale patties. Their merch guy/stage hand wears a vintage soda jerk uniform. Disembodied clown heads greet the crowd with demonic, glowing stares. GWAR and Ghoul have created entire worlds (and universes) where their characters prowl and prey. Mac Sabbath’s not at that level, but they're still all-in. That's a necessity when you’re asking an audience to suspend disbelief that you're not just another tribute band. To me, Mac Sabbath is easily-digested, high-concept escapism tethered to monolithic jams. Whatever the concept band's ultimate goal, based on the spirited response from the rowdy crowd – who surfed directly into the grill on stage and cooked up a few mosh pits – they accomplished their mission in Philadelphia.
Supporting “drive-thru metal” that nukes up and serves classic Sabbath may not be a priority for you. It's totally fair to debate whether or not Mac Sabbath’s entire existence is ethical, even with their seemingly sincere goal of shining Upton Sinclair’s critical light at the fast food industry. Like Jeff Goldblum denounced Jurassic Park's scientists, are Mac Sabbath just standing "on the shoulders of giants” for a meal ticket? All I know is that those who came out for a Labor Day weekend evening of food puns, fun, and classic riffs left ethics class at the restaurant door. And I was smiling along with them, ignoring my pangs for french fries.
Catch Mac Sabbath on the road and read their full menu of tour dates HERE.
Photographs courtesy of the author's shitty Instagram account.