Rock and roll has always been a mere adolescent trifle, a distraction for teenage minds as their four or five-year window of hormone-laden mental discombobulation leaves them unsuitable for employment; born in a strange blip of American post-war affluence and ennui, rock and roll as a cultural force emerged alongside the societal coronation of the automobile — and the ascension of fast food as the official cuisine of our nation. If the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were in the practice of assigning honest mythologies to their field, there would be a statue in front of I.M. Pei’s Cleveland monstrosity of a zit-covered Ron Howard lookalike at the wheel of a massive fin-tailed behemoth, cheeseburger in hand, wrapper tossed to the wind to the beat of some mindless piece of rock ridiculousness.
In 2016, though, both rock and roll and fast food are facing hard times: especially since the twin clown princes of each respective area, Ozzy Osbourne and Ronald McDonald, are facing imminent extinction. By the end of 2016, Ozzy’s late-’60s metal relic Black Sabbath will have completed their “The End” tour, assuming the members of the group live long enough to complete their contractual obligations; all the while, the fickle American palate has grown tired of Ray Kroc’s roadside burger empire, with his fast food corporation posting staggering quarterly loss after staggering quarterly loss. In short, there has never been a better time to dance on the graves of ’70s heavy metal and mid-20th century fast food capitalism than the present — and there has never been a more appropriate grave dance than the mighty Mac Sabbath.
“One time”, explains Mac Sabbath manager Mike Odd, who we caught up with via telephone while the band winds its way around America on a tour that will bring them to a sold-out Middle East Downstairs tonight, “some guy messaged me and was like ‘Hey man, love Mac Sabbath, I want to come on down.’ And I was like ‘Uh, come on down, what are you talking about?’ And he was like ‘Your address, can I get your address?’ ‘Address?’ And he’s like ‘Yeah, the address of your restaurant!’ ‘Uh, sorry buddy, but Mac Sabbath is not a restaurant!’”
Well, not yet at least — at this point, what they are is a Black Sabbath tribute band whose members dress up in costumes that look remarkably similar to trademarked characters used by a certain well-known fast food chain. If it sounds stupid or silly or ridiculous, it is all three; but it is also in its own overblown way the most trenchant and exciting cultural-statement-via-rock-music being made today, or at least the most powerful post-Pussy-Riot rock and roll band.
Like Pussy Riot, they don’t sell music, or really write songs; also like the Russian protest group, their popularity mushroomed via shaky cellphone clips uploaded to Youtube. Watching early Mac Sabbath gig clips in 2014 was kind of like watching Cloverfield — the amateur filming made the monsters seem far scarier and the sonic destruction more effective — and a cult was born.
“It was just an immediate cult following,” Odd explains. “We didn’t expect it to go so fast, we didn’t know what to do with it. We booked a show at a grammar school Halloween party, and it was literally middle school children watching Mac Sabbath, and it was great! I thought, beforehand, ‘This is either going to be great or the worst thing ever’ — and it worked. And then we’d go at night and play for drunks, and they loved it. And I then I was thinking ‘What if we play to the drunks, and then by day play for schools, maybe do the educational thing, like promote nutrition, do the whole Michelle Obama thing?’”
So far, Mac Sabbath hasn’t really needed to slum it in the public school system — soon after the band’s first few shows, in their home state of California, their internet fame got them a slot on the prestigious Download Festival in the UK, which led to a full-blown UK tour, which eventually led to their current full-blown US tour. Which perhaps means that the band is — *gulp* — almost a “real” band? Well, sort of — this moment catches the band in a temporary phase, between being a concept and being a full-blown institution, kind of like Celine Dion after being discovered by her future husband but before she became a Vegas installation. “Yeah, maybe we’ll go Vegas, or go Cabo Wabo, just like Sammy. The sky’s the limit!” exclaims Odd — which makes a certain amount of sense, because it’s only logical that branded hot sauce and other various artisanal condiments could be the future of the band, and of rock and roll itself.
“At this point, we’re not selling music or cheeseburgers,” is how Odd puts it — and although the band is probably making a mint off of their lawsuit-courting merchandise, they aren’t going to be getting a visit from Ozzy and Sharon’s lawyers on account of their hysterical Sabbath parodies just yet. The band’s power, in a sense, is greater than the Mad magazine-level puns of their Sabbath take-offs would imply: “Pair-A-Buns”, “Sweet Beef”, “Cherries Are Fruits”, etc. are guffaw-level but the band as an entity is ascendant because of the whole package, the way that the costumes and the malevolence of their attack and the ridiculousness of it all makes everything seem stupid.
The genius of Mac Sabbath is that you are witnessing an act that isn’t trying to nurture a long-term career — they’re just lighting things on fire to see what catches, regardless of whether it will mean anything in a month or a year or a decade.
“Someone told me recently that Mac Sabbath isn’t the band we need, but it’s the band we deserve,” Odd says, “which is a statement that definitely works for us on several levels. We just kind of want to keep this thing going and see what happens — but like the show at the middle school, we keep constantly thinking ‘This is either going to be great or the worst thing ever!’”
Kind of like rock and roll and ascendant teenage culture, this coin-flipping ideology is what keeps our world going, generation after generation — and whether they continue to be great or the worst thing ever, Mac Sabbath will at the very least accurately symbolize our culture’s gloriously will to annihilate into its own void, presumably with punishing stoner metal riffs, cheeseburger in hand.
MAC SABBATH + WHITE DYNOMITE + THE HUMANOIDS :: Tuesday, March 22 at the Middle East, 472 Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge, MA :: 7 p.m., 18-plus, SOLD OUT :: Facebook event page