Spinal Tap Alumni Reunite For Anniversary Tour The band is reuniting for a 30-city tour to mark the 25th anniversary of This Is Spinal Tap. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer will play songs from the '80s rock-band farce, as well as the folk-music satire A Mighty Wind.
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Spinal Tap Alumni Reunite For Anniversary Tour

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Spinal Tap Alumni Reunite For Anniversary Tour

Spinal Tap Alumni Reunite For Anniversary Tour

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Back now with Day to Day. Twenty five years ago this week, a little film came out about three guys - David, Derek and Nigel - and their intense desire to rock.

(Soundbite of movie "This is Spinal Tap")

Mr. CHRISTOPHER GUEST: (As Nigel Tufnel) What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?

Mr. ROB REINER: (As Marty DiBergi) Put it up to 11.

Mr. GUEST: (As Nigel Tufnel) Eleven. Exactly. One louder.

Mr. REINER: (As Marty DiBergi) Why don't you just make 10 louder and make 10 be the top number and make that a little louder?

Mr. GUEST: (As Nigel Tufnel) These go to 11.

COHEN: That film of course was "This is Spinal Tap." Much has changed since 1984 when it was first released, but as they say in the music biz, the song remains the same.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: One, two, three, four…

COHEN: This week here in Southern California, the band reunited. They held a press conference announcing a new 30-city tour. Actors and real life musicians Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer took to the stage at the House of Blues in Hollywood. There, they played a few songs from "Spinal Tap" including this one called "Hell Hole."

(Soundbite of song "Hell Hole")

SPINAL TAP: (Singing) I'm living in a hell hole Don't want to stay in this hell hole Don't want to die in this hell hole…

COHEN: Afterwards, the band was interviewed by Kurt Loder of "MTV Music News" fame.

Mr. KURT LODER (Anchor, "MTV Music News"): When did all three of you first get together and play?

Unidentified Man #2: We were (unintelligible).

Mr. LODER: And then, what happened?

Unidentified Man #2: I'm - my mic? Is it better now? Really.

Mr. LODER: Wait a minute, you want to hear him?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #2: Test, test, test...

COHEN: In classic Spinal Tap fashion, microphones weren't working. The guys were cracking jokes on the fly. It was as if we somehow had been transported into a 2009 version of "This is Spinal Tap." And if that doesn't make any sense, that means you're one of the handful of Americans who hasn't seen the film, so here's the basic premise. It's a faux documentary that chronicles an aging British heavy metal band called Spinal Tap as they try to stage a North American tour. Harry Shearer plays bassist Derek Smalls.

Mr. HARRY SHEARER (Bassist, Spinal Tap): Over the years, I've run into a lot of kids who said this to me in one way or another: Our band learned what not to do by watching your movie. So it is an educational film.

COHEN: Indeed, in the movie, just about everything that can go wrong with a band went wrong for Spinal Tap. Drummers spontaneously combusted, band members got lost backstage before a concert, an elaborate set designed to look like Stonehenge gets built at a height of 18 inches, instead of 18 feet. To make it seem bigger, the band's manager hires dwarves to play druids who dance around it.

Unidentified Man #2: I do not for one think that the problem was that the band was down. I think that the problem may have been that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf. All right? That tended to understate the hugeness of the object.

Unidentified Man #3: I really think you're just making a much too bigger thing out of it.

Unidentified Man #2: Making a big thing out of it would've been a good idea.

COHEN: When Spinal Tap goes on tour this time around, there will be no Stonehenge. That actually was one of many questions the actors were asked. Someone else wondered if there would be midget druids.

Unidentified Man #2: You know what, they're not called midgets anymore.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #2: And they're called little people.

Mr. SHEARER: And they're not just for breakfast anymore.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: Jokes aside, everyone at the House of Blues really wanted to know, why was the band getting back together after all these years? In part, the answer has to do with how they'll be playing. This tour is called the Unwigged Tour. They'll perform without the ridiculous rocker coifs seen in the film. They'll trade in the spandex for sport coats. And, as Harry Shearer explained, they'll play acoustic bass and guitar.

Mr. SHEARER: You know, partly, it's when you're playing loud rock and roll, which we love to do, partly because when you're doing that, you can't hear the other guys and you're in your own world. But when we do this, we're really connected musically in a very different way. The other thing is that we've played these characters but we've never gone out as ourselves. And it's interesting after playing characters on stage all these years, we're having meetings now trying to figure out (laughing) who the hell we are, yeah.

COHEN: In addition to playing songs from "Spinal Tap," they'll also perform songs from the film they made about the folk scene, "A Mighty Wind." There's also a new album in the works, says Michael McKean, including some Spinal Tap songs that have never been recorded before.

Mr. MCKEAN: There's a new track which has really - it has existed as kind of a peripheral joke, you know. When we play it live as Spinal Tap, there's a song called "Short and Sweet."

Mr. SHEARER: Which is endless.

Mr. MCKEAN: Yeah, which is 20 minutes long.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCKEAN: And that's when we have, you know, guest players come on. They will play for as long as we want and we'd go out and get coffee. So that's the premise. So we finally recorded a version and we're adding stellar guitar players as we speak.

COHEN: The Spinal Tap guys readily admit, the new CD, the new tour, the bobbleheads they say they're working on selling all are ways to help pay the rent. But, says Michael McKean, there is more to it than money. He says they get a kick out of how, even in 2009, Spinal Tap still has cultural resonance.

Mr. MCKEAN: There's kind of a snowballing of the absurdity. The more times that life imitates art in this case, Jeff Beck told us that he and Eric Clapton actually got lost under the stage at the Apollo Theater, and looked at each other and went, we're in that movie. And that was 10 years after the film. We saw a little bit of the film the other day. I hadn't seen it in about eight years. And it's pretty good, it's pretty funny.

COHEN: When you see yourself 25 years ago and you see that film, what struck you about it?

Mr. MCKEAN: Mainly, how thin I am, as far as us, you know. I hear a couple of big mistakes in my dialect, you know, a couple in Harry's, none in Chris' because, you know, he cheated by having an English father.

COHEN: What's your favorite part of the film?

Mr. MCKEAN: My favorite part of the film has always been Chris's guitar solo.

(Soundbite of guitar playing)

Mr. MCKEAN: There's like a 20-minute version of that, which is all funny. And what's in the film now is kind of the germ at the middle of a disease.

COHEN: I was also able to grab a few quick moments face-to-face with Harry Shearer.

This world's a crazy, in many ways, depressing place. Do you see any role of what you're doing in bringing humor out there on the road? Do you think it's needed more right now?

Mr. SHEARER: Look, we all know laughter cures cancer. That's what we're doing. We're out there curing cancer. I don't know what you're doing.

COHEN: I'm waiting until April. That's when Spinal Tap comes back to rock L.A. The Unwigged Tour kicks off April 17th in Vancouver, British Columbia.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #5: (Rapping) Working on the (unintelligible) trying to raise a (unintelligible) Getting out my pitchfork poking your head…

COHEN: You can hear Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer play a medley of their songs at nprmusic.org. Day to Day is a production of NPR News with contributions from Slate.com. We take it up to 11. I'm Alex Cohen.

(Soundbite of music)

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