Ugly, Ugly, Ugly, Handsome! The songs of Peelander-Z range from the ludicrous to the comically observational. So Many Mike is a song that articulates the oddity of a Japanese band singing, night after night, in front of a crowd of mostly caucasian, 20-something young men. Essentially, the joke is that all white people look the same. And the joke lands instantly with joy and playfulness at 180 beats per minute.
Life is a collection of experiences. There is no experience quite like Peelander-Z.
Bear with me as I tell a quick story. I was playing in a local punk band in Wilmington, Delaware that mostly just played basement shows and local clubs. On a Thursday night in 2009, we were put on the bill at Mojo 13, a local club that was known for its outlandish acts and love of the extremes. On any given night you might see burlesque, singer-songwriters, speed metal, or some other genre obscura.
This particular Thursday, we had been given the chance to open — along with a number of other, much better, acts — in support of a “Japanese Action Comic punk band hailing from the Z area of Planet Peelander.” What does that even mean? Well, it’s a fair question. We arrived early as our time-slot was for 8 PM. Mojo, which has since been renamed Bar XIII, is split into a bar area, a pool room, and a music room. The music room can fit about 150-200 people or so, making for an intimate setting and heightened intensity.
Not long after we arrived, a group of quiet unassuming folks showed up and brought their equipment in. As we played pool, Peelander Yellow joined us. A regular guy who was bald on top with a neon-colored ring of long, yellow hair. We had literally no idea what to expect from this night.
Prelude to Insanity
The thing about my band at the time is we didn’t play music to make it big. It wasn’t born out of ambition but out of camaraderie. We enjoyed each other’s company, and we played for each other. Our songs were mostly inside jokes; we did not take ourselves seriously. Musicians far too often take themselves seriously. We had that part right. But we were about to get a lesson in what music is really about. It’s not about showing off for your friends. Music isn’t about virtuosity. It’s not about impressing other people. What live performances are about is simple. It’s about sharing something with an audience. It’s about serving the people in front of you, connecting to them and earning their time and attention.
A punk rock show is usually comprised of a bill of 4-5 acts. Each band until the headliner gets roughly 25-35 minutes. Get in, get loud, get out. Keep it moving. As Paul Green says, “Never give the audience a reason to lose interest.”
Quirk With A Smirk
Our songs had quirk with a smirk. More swagger than skill. That’s how we liked it. As we finished our set, which we executed our nine songs with a general proximity to how we practiced, we felt like we had survived a test. To be honest, most performances feel more like survival than a bask in glory. As the night wore on, other bands, both more talented and earnest than ours, performed. They deftly got into and out of songs within three minutes and kept it moving.
In the back of the club, we noticed that Peelander began to get into costume. Each band member wore a costume of varied elaboration. Each had a different color. Peelander Yellow was the leader but not the most outgoing. He spoke quietly with Peelander Pink, his secret wife, and backing vocals Peelander Red, the bassist. Peelander Green was the drummer. All wore costumes that evoked Gwar crossed with Power Rangers. Nice gimmick, right? Well most of us thought the same. Should be a cool gimmick worth waiting around for.
Boy, were we mistaken. What happened over the next hour is hard to describe.
First of all, getting the crowd into a show is one of the biggest challenges any band faces. Keeping their attention is one thing, but getting them involved? So hard. Unless, of course, you are a band that everyone has heard many times and knows the songs. This is why most live music in clubs are cover bands. The sheer difficulty in winning over a crowd with songs they don’t already know is enormous.
And that night on Philadelphia Pike, no one knew any of the Peelander-Z songs. So we had no idea what was about to befall us.
In 2009, Peelander-Z released P-Pop High School. The band was touring the East Coast to support the album. After hours of enduring the local “talent,” they took the stage. The first song was straight ahead punk. Fast drum breaks, high energy, high intensity. The crowd was into the spirit of the moment. The crowd was friendly, having mostly been warmed up by local acts who they personally knew. 200 or so people in a room that mostly already knew each other.
Songs like Ninja High School, Mad Tiger, and So Many Mike were supported by Peelander Pink holding up cue cards to the audience to let them know how to sing along. A super simple device that gave a warm crowd the excuse to let loose. Just how it was planned…
Ninja High School
As the breakdown in Ninja High School started, the crowd fell fully under the band’s spell. When the band crashed back into the super simple chorus, the audience lost all semblance of sanity and erupted into becoming part of the show. Again, all part of the plan. Looking back, I envy the band in knowing that they had something coming that the audience was about to go insane over. That feeling, when you get it, is indescribable.
After a few songs, Peelander Pink and Yellow pulled out a box full of drum sticks and metal bowls. They began handing them out — TO THE CROWD. The magical simplicity of the music, all straight 4/4 time, allowed the crowd to play along. Suddenly the music was diversified from just five people on stage to coming from within the crowd itself. The band had tapped into a childlike joy of banging on pots and pans, and the crowd ate it up. But this was simply a taste for what was coming.
So Many Mike…. You are Mike, You Are Mike, You are Mike To Me…
As mentioned, the bowls were just a beginning. The band began to introduce party games during seemingly ever other song. At one point the band began to create space on the floor in the middle of the audience to start bowling — with humans.
But here’s the thing I want you to notice about that video. Look on stage. Who’s playing the instruments? That’s right, it’s not the band.
Near the end of the set, the band took audience involvement to an entirely new level. In one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever seen in a live performance, Peelander Pink invited an audience member on stage and handed her the bass guitar. She then showed the girl the basic chord of the song and had the audience member play with the band. Sure, just bass, right? No big deal. At first it was cool, but it’s a crowd of artists, not a surprise that someone had enough acumen to pick up a basic bass line and keep up with the band.
Peelander Pink then stepped off stage and began setting up the games in the audience. But then, Peelander Yellow and Red did the same thing. They found audience members to come on stage and play guitar. Basic, fast, straight-line punk. Soon after, I was pulled on stage to play drums. The band had effectively replaced themselves on stage with crowd members and kept the song going.
As I sat on stage, Peelander Green, the drummer, began taking away parts of the drum kit. What’s going on? Wait a second… Is this their clever way of breaking down equipment and getting out of town before we know it? Soon enough, I was left with nothing but a snare to hit. And finally that was taken away. Effectively the entire band had left the stage, with their equipment, in the middle of their own show.
And for a brief moment, there was silence.
Give Me Your Smile
As I stood on the stage, suddenly alone, the crowd slowly parted. In epic, almost Hollywood fashion, Peelander Green, with his head down, emerged from the middle of the audience — sitting at a fully reconstructed drum kit. Slowly, dramatically, the drum beat began. In a song, unlike anything else they had played, the guitar started with acoustic riffs.
Thank you, for coming to see my show,
don’t forget to bring your mother next time.
Thank you, for helping to make my show,
wanna give a nickname to you next time.
Oh Yeah, I have to go right now,
please don’t say goodbye to me! Just Give me smile, give me smile, give me smile.
When I tell you that it was one of the most dramatic and satisfying moments I’ve ever experienced, I truly mean it. Here is a cover of perhaps the most heartfelt of all Peelander-Z songs.
Peelander-Z are currently residents of Austin, Texas but tour occasionally. The Painted Lines reached out to Peelander Yellow, who said that while no dates are confirmed, the band will tour the Eastern US in 2020.
The band has played festivals such as Bonnaroo, has appeared on Comedy Central, and has been the subject of a documentary called “Mad Tiger.” The band has perfected the art of immersive audience experience. If you see Peelander-Z come to a club or arena near you, do yourself a favor and go insane for a night.