If a pizza-themed Velvet Underground tribute band featuring a '90s child actor was going succeed anywhere, it had to be Portland, right? In a city whose major tourist destination is a place that sells dick-shaped doughnuts, it'd almost be shocking if the show didn't sell out.
And so it was with little surprise that an SRO crowd at Mississippi Studios stayed up past midnight on a Tuesday to watch Macaulay Culkin sing "I'm Waiting for the Delivery Man" and "Take a Bite of the Wild Slice." It wouldn't be accurate to call the Pizza Underground, which the Home Alone star introduced via a Warhol-inspired YouTube parody last year, a "vanity project." It's more of an art-school prank, perpetrated by a bored rich kid who "retired" from acting at age 14 and has little else to do.
So what was it like, exactly? You can get the gist just by reading the song titles. After passing out slices of Pizza a Go-Go to the audience, the band—culled from members of New York's "anti-folk" scene—spent half the show stumbling through medleys of VU and Lou Reed classics, reworked into paeans to Italy's greatest export: "Cheese Days," "Papa John Says," "I'm Beginning to Eat the Slice"…you get the idea. A faux Moe Tucker thumped a miked-up take-out box with a drum stick. A fake Nico crooned "All the Pizza Parties" in a bad teutonic brogue. Culkin played the "Walk on the Wild Side" sax solo on kazoo.
In between, the group snickered over in-jokes devised in their tour van. Culkin treated us to his Tony Danza impression. The falsed Nico monotoned a joke about the difference between delivery boys and gynecologists. They discussed future projects, including Pussy Joel, a cat-themed homage to Billy Joel, and Plop Dylan, which…well, you can take a guess at that one. At one point, opener Toby Goodshank, donning a wig and white-framed sunglasses, performed a mini-set of Nirvana songs sung in the past tense ("Loaded up on guns/Brought your friends…"). It was over quickly—not in 30 minutes or less, but close.
A critic with more time on their hands could probably mount an argument that the PU is actually a wry critique of pop idolatry, reducing one of the holiest songbooks in rock to a one-note joke repeated ad nauseum. But the joke isn't really on the Velvet Underground or the cultural mythology machine. It's on the audience for even showing up. Culkin's perma-smirk from behind his Lou Reed shades said it all: "You motherfuckers paid money for this?!"
For their part, the crowd in Portland suffered the act with more patience than others have, even bringing them back for an encore with the chant of "One more slice!" Perhaps that was to be expected, though. Because if your pizza-themed Velvet Underground tribute act fronted by a child actor from the '90s can make it here, then your pizza-themed Velvet Underground tribute act fronted by a child actor from the '90s can make it anywhere.
All photos by Emma Browne.