What can I say about Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer that hasn't been said? These three comedian/musicians have been making people laugh and playing music together in some way or another since Spinal Tap made its first appearance in 1979. And in 1984, when the mockumentary This is Spinal Tap was released, they were forever imprinted on the cosmic consciousness as rock gods Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins, and Derek Smalls. Since then, the trio have appeared in multiple Christopher Guest-directed films A Mighty Wind (2003) and For Your Consideration (2006).
Unwigged & Unplugged features performances from the soundtracks of This Is Spinal Tap and the second Spinal Tap album, Break Like The Wind (1992), as well as the soundtrack to A Mighty Wind, on which the trio played as The Folksmen.
What makes this performance so special is that they are playing all of these songs with acoustic instruments or a capella. The trio appears as themselves—not as their respective characters—and have a great time reminiscing as they play. They are joined by CJ Vanston (who helped them on their latest Spinal Tap project, Back from the Dead (2009), Annette O'Toole (Michael McKean's wife who appeared in A Mighty Wind, and Judith Owen (wife of Harry Shearer and a singer-songwriter in her own right).
All three are great comedians who have had wonderful movie and TV careers. Guest played Count Rugen in one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride. My first exposure to McKean was as Lenny (of Lenny & Squiggy fame) on Laverne and Shirley. And Shearer, of course, has done voices on The Simpsons forever, including Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, Ned Flanders, Principle Skinner, and many more.
When you add in their musical abilities, though, these guys can rock. Earlier this year I had an opportunity to review the first release from the Beyman Bros, Memories of Summer as a Child, of which Guest was a part as well as David Nichtern and CJ Vanston. This was an amazing album for me first because it was great instrumental music which bridged Americana, bluegrass, and jazz genres and second because it showed the world just how great a musician Guest really is. (You can read that review here.)
And now, in the 25th anniversary of the film This is Spinal Tap, these three amazing men are getting together to share their love of comedy and music once again with their fans. The stars and planets must all be aligning somehow, for this is truly a great show.
Just to hear them play some of the Spinal Tap tunes that previously were only played on extremely amplified (i.e. turned up to 11) instruments on acoustic guitars is great. With everything from "Hell Hole," "Bitch School," "Big Bottom," and "Sex Farm" to "The Good Book Song" and "A Kiss At the End of the Rainbow," they ranged far and wide through their vast repertoire. And the way they bookend the concert between two verses of the a capella "Celtic Blues" works beautifully to pull everything together.
All in all the group plays about 30 different songs from their time together. The concert footage is crisp and well shot, the concert sounds great, and by the end you feel like you really wanted to be there to see it all live.
If you like music from This is Spinal Tap or A Mighty Wind, you'll love Unwigged & Unplugged: An Evening with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. Be sure to look for it when it's released on September 1. For more about the DVD, check out the website Unwigged.com.