[PC: Digital Beard – hey, that’s me!]
For hard rock and glam metal fans under the age of 25 like myself, there is a very slim chance that we will ever get to see live the original line up of acts like Guns N Roses, Poison and Van Halen. Lucky for us, Steel Panther exists to fill that void. The over-the-top Californian band supply fans of this music like yours truly with early-MTV metal riffs, massive choruses like it’s our very own 1980s, fun but no doubt silly themes of debauchery and excess, all mixed in plenty with the tongue-sticking-right-through-the-cheek, sex-fuelled humour.
From all of that, you’ve probably quite easily gathered that while I’m indeed a fan, I’ve also seen the Panther numerous times live. And I’ll tell you what, they are one of the most entertaining live acts going around – in any genre! (Their lyrical content and comedy schtick can get a little long in the tooth, though, admittedly). However, when they announced that their current live Sunset Strip tour was making its way down to Australia, it definitely made me tight in the pants, if you know what mean.
Because who wouldn’t want to see a brilliant live rock band play some cool original tunes and then cover some of the greatest glam metal and hard rock songs of all time? Exactly.
Anyway, onto the show!
For the first hour, Steel Panther powered through what was basically a “greatest hits” set of their own material, opening up with fan favourites ‘Eye Of The Panther‘, ‘Going In The Back Door‘ and ‘Asian Hooker‘. So you know that the L.A. quartet wasn’t fucking around tonight, with each song hitting you like a tight-spandex and hairspray-drenched roundhouse kick to the face.
Now, there’s always been speculation about just how much of their set is “legit” but I can assure you, these guys are some of the cleanest and tightest musicians I’ve ever seen live: they own it on the stage and then some! Guitarist Satchel plays every solo, riff and lick effortlessly so, what with his fingers flying up and down the fretboard at warped but precise speed, bringing a modern feel to the classic ’80s metal parts he shreds throughout.
To complement such a guitarist, you’d need the perfect 1980s inspired lead vocalist, and frontman Michael Starr has the vocal stylings and the entertainment factor to make you think you’re watching the likes of Bret Michaels, Dee Snider or Axl Rose perform right before your eyes on the Sunset Strip. Adding that to the tight rhythm section of “the best looking bass player in metal” Lexxi Foxx and human metronome drummer Stix Zadinia, I have good reason enough to talk up how good Steel Panther are as live musicians.
Yet after crushing through their setlist essentials of ‘Just Like Tiger Woods‘, ‘Death To All But Metal‘, ‘17 Girls In A Row‘ and ‘Community Property‘, this was starting to feel like any other Steel Panther show. Which isn’t really a bad thing. While they are technically fantastic, incredibly engaging live and do have brilliant value whenever they hit the stage, having an eerily similar set played whenever you see them live – even years apart from the last time- is, unfortunately, getting a little stale.
But that all changed tonight as it soon became one of my favourite gigs I’ve been to in a very long time!
See, as the crowd settled back from the night’s 15 minutes intermission, the lights dim and a loud siren-like guitar cut through The Forum’s PA, as Steel Panther opened their highly anticipated covers set with ‘Kickstart My Heart‘ by Mötley Crüe. I mean, if you’re doing an 80s metal cover set and this song doesn’t get played, are you really playing a fucking 80s metal cover set?! (No is the correct answer). Moving on from that great start, Satchel smashed out the iconic intro riff of the Scorpions mega-hit ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane‘ and the crowd has well and truly come unglued by this point.
Now, if you anyone reading knows me personally, then you’ll know that I talk about Van Halen literally every single day. They are the best band ever and if you think otherwise, you’re wrong. So, when it was time for the legendary Van Halen song ‘Jump‘ to be played, I was a very happy glam boy indeed. And play it Steel Panther did, with each part of the song perfectly executed. And you’d want it to be, seeing as vocalist Michael Starr is pretty much the second coming of David Lee Roth. Also, I had a good chuckle when Starr and co. sang “Make some noise for Steel Panther playing Van Halen” to the melody of the synths from ‘Jump‘.
As much as the crowd love Steel Panther’s original songs about the breasts, sex and butt jokes, and that the band themselves love playing those songs themselves, it’s easy to see that these four guys are in their proper element playing the songs of their heroes. From Starr’s incredible vocal versatility to Satchel’s outrageous ability to play anything and everything on the guitar, you could truly see Steel Panther’s old cover band roots shine through, which helped make this show that much more enjoyable. Whether it was the band smashing out Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Crazy Train‘ (featuring a very accurate Osbourne impersonation from Starr) to a seven-minute guitar solo from Satchel – playing every solo and riff from Metallica, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Guns N Roses and literally every other big rock and metal band ever.
The second half of the band’s quite possibly too perfect covers set was then further supercharged by a guest appearance from Joel O’Keefe of AC/DC cover band, Airbourne, and of course ‘Highway To Hell‘ was next up on a stellar setlist.
It was at this stage of the band’s second set that I realised that Steel Panther doesn’t really get enough recognition for being in the upper-tier of best live acts in the world. And I do say that without bias. Aside from their fantastic playing and constant sing-along-inducing songs, the overall production of their live show makes you want to try and find a ticket to the sold-out show the next night in your city. From the moment the four-piece hit the stage, the light show was bright, perfectly in sync with the music and just captivating, yet also never distracting your attention away from the action down on the stage. (Like any great light show succeeds at). And the on-stage aspect of Panther’s live show is also beyond entertaining, with Satchel and Lexxi Foxx displaying perfect Warrant-esque synchronised dance moves.
To finish out the night, we were greeted with a plethora of glam hits, with Steel Panther whipping out Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ On A Prayer‘; Def Leppard staple tune ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me‘; the under-rated sing-your-heart-out anthem ‘Here I Go Again‘ by Whitesnake (which morphed into a near 10-minutes segue of “which band played the same chord progression as this song”, featuring the likes of Smash Mouth, Weezer and Tom Petty). And of course, the Guns N Roses hit that defined 80s rock, ‘Paradise City‘. All four of these songs you would expect to hear at any other 80s pub cover night from some shitty bar band on a Saturday night. But Steel Panther isn’t a shitty cover band. They more than smashed these four songs out of the park, leaving everyone satisfied as it was time to pull up stumps and head home.
As you can tell, the second half of this night was my own personal wet musical dream. A band I love seeing live playing songs that define my favourite genre of music? Of course, I’m going to love that shit! But when you add the fact that the covers portion of tonight’s show was the soundtrack to the majority of this Melbourne crowd’s teen and early adult years, the vibe in the room made this concert even better than it already was. And, although the first half of the show felt like I went back to their 2016 Festival Hall set, I still had the best time. Fully knowing that this band isn’t meant to be taken seriously, but seriously enough to produce one of my favourite hours of live music with incredible attention to detail and brilliant execution for some of the greatest rock songs ever written.