The members of Spinal Tap will be onstage Tuesday night at the Lyric. But Spinal Tap won't. Harry Shearer wants to be sure fans understand the difference.
"It's not a Spinal Tap tour," says Shearer, who played bass for the band that began life as a mockumentary send-up of the heavy-metal lifestyle, but then became famous both for its sense of humor (let's hope all the fans were in on the joke) and its grinding, guitar-heavy sound. "This is more of a songwriter's tour. We're doing the music that people know, and largely that we've written."
Which explains why, at 8 o'clock Tuesday night, three men in their 60s will take to the stage and sing melodic, acoustic versions of songs with titles like "Hell Hole," "Big Bottom" and "Sex Farm."
Think of it as Spinal Tap unplugged - and with much shorter hair. That's how Shearer and his bandmates, Michael McKean and Christopher Guest, are thinking about it. In fact, that's what they're calling the show: "Unwigged & Unplugged."
"We look like ourselves," Shearer says. "And we're playing acoustic instruments, so you won't need to wear earplugs, like at a Spinal Tap show."
Obviously not your father's Spinal Tap. That's the point.
"We've survived a long time, throwing curveballs to the audience," Shearer, 65, says over the phone from Florida, where he and his bandmates had just finished a four-night stand last week. "A lot of show business is based on 'You've heard it before, now come here it again.' But our careers are joined by a fairly common desire not to repeat ourselves a lot."
Just to compound any confusion, the trio's repertoire will not be limited to material from 1984's This Is Spinal Tap, the Rob Reiner film that unleashed the trio of singer David St. Hubbins (McKean), guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Guest) and bassist Derek Smalls (Shearer) on an unsuspecting world. There will also be songs from Guest's 2003 A Mighty Wind, in which the trio gets to play reuniting folk legends The Folksmen. There should even be a few tunes from Guest's 1996 Waiting for Guffman, about a small-town theater production.
"We have a very wide range," Shearer deadpans.
And a wonderful way of showcasing it. Who ever thought Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom," with lines like "Big bottom drive me out of my mind/How could I leave this behind," would work as an acoustic number?
"One of the interesting things about this project," Shearer says, "was, we're not making musical choices that our characters would make. The whole task before us was: How would we play these songs like we had never played them before? 'Big Bottom' is the quintessence of that. You'll recognize it, but it is very different."
There's even a dramatic reading of a TV censor's note, raising objections to the term "twisted old fruit" from T his Is Spinal Tap. Such drama.
"The censor had the wonderfully Dickensian name of 'Bill Clotworthy,' " Shearer recalls with a chuckle. "We actually show the front page of his censor notes memo."
If you go
An evening with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, "Unwigged & Unplugged," at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave. Tickets are $22.50-$50. Call 410-685-5086 or go to lyricoperahouse.com