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A cheesy night with The Pizza Underground at The Space

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Last night, I went to see New York City-based comedy rock band The Pizza Underground at The Space in Hamden. Like probably many at the sold-out show, I was mostly there for the novelty of seeing Macaulay Culkin (yes, the Home Alone kid) perform pizza-themed parodies of Velvet Underground songs with fellow band members (they’d also have a show later that night at The Outer Space / The Ballroom across the parking lot.) According to the band’s pizza box-hitting percussionist Deenah Vollmer, the band started as a joke in 2012 (not surprising.) As time went on, it wasn’t a joke anymore (well, it wasn’t just a joke, at least), and the band recorded a demo at Culkin’s home last November (Bitter Melody Records released it on yellow, white and red cassettes in January.)

Since Culkin was portrayed as a typical pizza-loving kid in the Home Alone films, they uploaded a soon-to-be-viral video of him again eating a cheese pizza at age 33. How could you resist such a marvelously conceived band live, particularly when they provided free first-come-first-serve pizza? (For this show, the establishment lucky enough to provide pie was New Haven’s BAR.)

The opening act was New York-based anti-folk musician Toby Goodshank, known for playing in indie bands such as The Moldy Peaches, Double Deuce and the Tri-Lambs (he’s also released 14 solo albums in a five-year span.) Goodshank’s acoustic set proved to be a really entertaining demonstration of his talent for intimate, clever songs, including a spot-on cover of “Big Deal” by The Dead Milkmen. I assumed that he was going to replace an act called The Burning Hell that I saw on my original ticket order, but sure enough, a few people (including a member of The Pizza Underground) joined Goodshank to become that band for a closing cover of the classic 1950s pop song “Lollipop.”

If you’ve heard any of The Pizza Underground’s music already, you pretty much know what to expect: Velvet Underground songs parodied to be about pizza (“Femme Fatale” becomes “Pizza Gal,” Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” is “Take a Bite of the Wild Slice,” etc.) All of its members sing and play at least one instrument: in addition to Culkin on kazoo and percussion and Vollmer on pizza box percussion, there’s Matt Colbourn on guitar, Phoebe Kreutz on glockenspiel and Austin Kilham on tambourine. Musically, I think they’re competent enough for their silly songs laden with every pizza reference imaginable, from eating leftovers to going to Domino’s, Papa John’s, Little Caesars, etc.

It was all just one big cheesy, light-hearted experience complete with pizza jokes (one had to be told as someone raced to a dumpster for a “new” pizza box after Vollmer’s one got worn out.) There was even a surprise appearance from “Kurt Cobain,” who looked really similar to Goodshank playing an acoustic medley of Nirvana songs re-written in the past tense. I think the whole Pizza Underground set was about 40-50 minutes long: just enough time. They may not be quite as profound or influential as the real Velvet Underground, but they put on a fun show that I’m glad I got to experience.

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