I’m not the obvious choice to review Mickey Avalon – rap is not quite my thing. Still, I leapt at the chance to review this show, in hope rather than expectation.
I first encountered Avalon’s music back in 2005, when some friends from Portland told me about this gifted rapper with an amazing back-story. I wasn’t terribly interested at the time, obsessed as I was with, say, Maxïmo Park; but eventually I ran across a copy of Mickey Avalon’s debut CD in a bargain bin (on MySpace Records, fact fans!) and bought it. Mainly to placate my friends. A few months later, I loaded it onto my iPod to rate the songs (a rigorous habit that I share with Cale) regardless of my pre-conceived notions about the music.
I was immediately and completely taken by Avalon’s beguiling mixture of hilariously naughty humor, earworm melodies that linger, and a vein of painfully self-aware pathos. The latter has been pointed out before by others – usually highlighting Avalon’s brutal honesty about his incredibly sad life, involving the heroin addiction, prostitution, divorce, and the premature deaths of close family members. But what impressed me was the striking mixture of pathos with braggadocio – often in the same couplet:
I’m on the run, my dad’s a bum, I asked if my girl loved me and she just said, ‘um…’ I bust flows that turn nuns to hos, and wake you from your slumber then shake you out ya clothes (from “Waiting to Die”)
The more downbeat songs are offset by the hilarious wordplay and joyously melodic on other tracks, like this excerpt from the irresistible “Jane Fonda:”
…her brother Jason had a girl named Grace, and you could see her ass from outer space; so I landed on her planet, and planted a Mickey Av flag in it, dammit.
Still, what would he be like, live? The videos and live snippets I’d seen didn’t exactly fill me with confidence about his professionalism and showmanship. And, in the ensuing 7 years – SEVEN BLOODY YEARS – since his debut album, he’s only released a clutch of songs – although one, “What Do You Say?” landed in the Hangover soundtrack, and undoubtedly did no harm to his career and plans to release a second album, LOADED. Oh, and he also worked with the Happy Mondays (WTF?). Well, I was about to find out.
The lights go down and Toni Basil’s “Mickey” blares out of the Soundsystem while an MC (Andre Legacy? ) stares, impassively. A drunk-looking Avalon – wearing a Regina Spektor-esque military hat – takes the stage and bursts right into “Waiting to Die” from the debut album. The music is spot on, though, and Avalon’s performance seems to have a choreographed wasted elegance about it. By that, I mean he seems to be pretending to be wasted to heighten the danger and give himself more leeway to dance badly, sway madly, and jump into the crowd at will like a great physical comedian, toying with the audience’s expectations to add to his freedom and fun.
His signature tune, “Mr. Right,” blares out – and he’s now wearing a white DC-flagged wife-beater, and there’s a girl in big glasses smoking a cigarette and wearing a very 1983 LA outfit to illustrate the song.
She’s up there a lot, part dancer, part voguer. Nice touch. Avalon segues to newer material, which all works really well, slipping droll lines like, “I’m the white Jay-Z” and looping big beats and samples into the mix. It’s at this point where I realize the deeper reason I like Mickey Avalon – aside from the excellent stage presence and witty lyrics, he’s the inheritor of big, messy, pre-metal industrial bands like the Revolting Cocks or early My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult. Indeed, many of the beats would be right at home in the late 1980s and early 1990s Limelight, where the Beastie Boys, PIL, and Acid Horse would all keep the masses moving on the dance floor.
Avalon strikes a good balance between the new material and the old favorites, giving the bros and indie kids (looking slightly sheepish to be here) plenty of reasons to dance. They push up close to the stage as Mickey mimes sex and jumps into the audience and jigs around the front edge of the stage. Indeed, some of the new songs have raved-up electro beats, while others use recognizable samples (“Whole Lotta Love”) and bring to mind the Beastie Boys pre-Buddhism (though, that could also be because of the horrible news of Adam Yauch’s untimely death).
Avalon seems to be leaving the stage, drawing outrage from the audience, so he stops and plays “Red Light District,” with the dancer stripping down to sequined pasties and heart-shaped sunglasses, before inducing mass hysteria by playing “What Do You Say?” I’m well pleased with my evening – the sound was stellar, the bar staff at the Hotel brought their A-game – and I go home, listening to a playlist of License to Ill and Mickey Avalon’s songs as I cab across the city, satisfied. Call me Mr. Right, indeed.