SHOW REVIEW: The Protomen

by | Aug 27, 2010 | MUSIC

The Protomen, Makeup And Vanity Set, and Craptain Jack And The Shmees
August 13 at Plaza Bowl

Plaza Bowl is an unlikely place for the fight that will determine mankind’s future. But last Friday, there they were: Richmond’s army, full of piss and vinegar, and just itching for a fight. When the Protomen came out, suited up and armed to the teeth, they were ready to deliver. “Warriors of Richmond! Are you going to FIGHT with us this evening?!” Said the robot in the jumpsuit. The crowd was ready. But first, there were the pirates, and then a ninja DJ to contend with. That was the scene Friday the 13th, when Plaza Bowl and everyone in it enlisted for the fight of their lives along with Craptain Jack and the Shmees, Makeup and Vanity Set, and The Protomen.

The Protomen, Makeup And Vanity Set, and Craptain Jack And The Shmees
August 13 at Plaza Bowl

Plaza Bowl is an unlikely place for the fight that will determine mankind’s future. But last Friday, there they were: Richmond’s army, full of piss and vinegar, and just itching for a fight. When the Protomen came out, suited up and armed to the teeth, they were ready to deliver. “Warriors of Richmond! Are you going to FIGHT with us this evening?!” Said the robot in the jumpsuit. The crowd was ready. But first, there were the pirates, and then a ninja DJ to contend with. That was the scene Friday the 13th, when Plaza Bowl and everyone in it enlisted for the fight of their lives along with Craptain Jack and the Shmees, Makeup and Vanity Set, and The Protomen.

Lit by the flickering lights lining Plaza Bowl’s bowling lanes, Craptain Jack’s blue-and-red petticoat was dyed different shades of neon as he and his band The Shmees began their set. Playing fun, energetic rock that’s equal parts rum and Ramones, Craptain Jack and his crew can best be described as “pirate punks,” and they commit to their role, right down to the buckles on their shoes and the drunken seagull on the drums. “I didn’t know it was Halloween!” Yelled one Plaza Bowl employee with a laugh.

With songs like “Raining Skulls,” “Savage Caviar,” and “Blackfin the Shark” (about a man-eating shark, of course), it’s plain to see Craptain Jack and the Shmees laughing right along with the rest of us. As their set progressed from one punk sea shanty to the next, the small audience on Plaza Bowl’s dancefloor grew larger and larger. While it was still humble—it seemed like most were reserving their energy for The Protomen, or at least their next game of duckpin bowling—the audience was won over by the easy, drunken charm of the band, and their loose, funny stage presence. “This song’s about me, so I like it a lot, and I know you will, too,” said Jack before launching into “I Am The Craptain.”

With a fun, energetic stage character that fits in perfectly with the seagull drummer and the skeleton bass player behind him, Craptain Jack is like if Axl Rose had more of a sense of humor. Between those high notes and the impromptu pirate sword duel that broke out when a fan jumped the stage, the good Craptain and his loyal Shmees proved themselves ready for the fight to come.

Eventually, the pirate punks quit the stage and hit the bar for some chilled grog, but it wasn’t quiet in Plaza Bowl for long. “Get sassy as fuck, Richmond!”

Makeup and Vanity Set, a robber-masked ninja DJ from Nashville, Tennessee, took Plaza Bowl’s reins and traded everybody’s peg legs for dancing shoes. Dressed in black and surrounded on all sides by duckpin bowling and flashing neon, Makeup and Vanity Set kept the surreal fun of the night going strong.

“We all need to be friendly, and we all need to be OK with dancing,” he said, clutching his mic with leather, fingerless gloves. “OK. Let’s do this.”

While it might have been slow-going at first, Makeup and Vanity Set’s enthusiasm and smart, funny charm soon won over the ever-growing crowd. In between jokes about Plaza Bowl’s not-so-scenic location and stories about duckpin bowling with the Protomen, he delivered one sassy dance party soundtrack after the next. With a sound that’s at times like an 8-bit rave at Mario’s house paired with a steady, lively, heavy foot-stomping rhythm, it’s no wonder that Makeup and Vanity Set can so easily turn wallflowers into stars who before they know it are leading a dance line around their local bowling alley.

But as much style and obvious chops as our man behind the tables had, the man up front deserves more than an honorable mention. Makeup and Vanity Set may have provided the motion, but his hype-man, Kilroy, provided the motivation. Armed with a mic, a moustache, and a mohawk (the deadly triple-M threat), Kilroy helped everyone in the crowd lose their cold feet and commit to Makeup and Vanity Set’s polished and powerful beats. Looming above and behind the slick ink stain of the DJ, Kilroy made a lively, colorful addition to the set, and seemed to fit right in with the bizarre backdrop around him. With the crowd closed in tight, you’d have to work your eyes to pick out the DJ and his energetic hype-man. But between the pumping fists, the occasional Protomen fan in costume, and the changing neon of the bowling lanes around them, there they were, working together to make that next dance line. And when the guy leading that dance line is 6’2” and wearing a horse mask, you know it’s been a good show. After a sight like that, after a night of pirates and ninja DJ’s and skeletons and dancing, shouting mohawks, what else could be missing but robots?

The energy, excitement, and numbers at Plaza Bowl had been growing with each act, and by the end of the night the crowd was ready and waiting for The Protomen to take the stage. While the posters might have said “The Protomen vs. Craptain Jack,” it was plain to see whose army this really was. You have to admire any band that alters their actual live drum set to sound like a drum machine, and as the band filed onto the stage to a strong, 8-bit military cadence, you could feel the excitement in the small, but devoted crowd rise.

“We are your heroes! We are your salvation! We are your hope! We are The Protomen!” With that rallying cry, the crowd started moving and the band launched into “Unrest in the House of Light,” the third song from their breakout 2005 self-titled album. The song begins with a steady, mountain-music rhythm; like an old Johnny Cash song played by a robot. By the time the crescendo in their next song, “The Will of One,” came charging down with all the weight of the band’s synthesizers, guitars, drums/drum machines, and Megaman helmets behind it, the moshing had started and the first crowd-surfer was sailing past.

You can say this for an under-attended show: at least there’s room to move. The music The Protomen make is a rock opera about Megaman; like Tommy for nerds. You wouldn’t expect it to launch Plaza Bowl into the kind of frenzy that it did, but sure enough, not a single attendee was standing still. Energy was the word of the night, and the robots from Nashville brought it in spades. The crowd and the band seemed to be feeding off each other; it was a common sight to see the band pumping their fists and shouting in time with the audience. All that moving is hard to do under a heavy Megaman helmet, with silver face paint running in your eyes, but The Protomen’s sense of fun and enthusiasm were ready, willing, and able.

The band is enormously talented, and—as the guitar player proved towards the show’s middle—can perform their sweeping rock epic crowd-surfing on their backs. At any time, you’d spot the back-up singers on keyboards or the trumpet, or the lead singer, Raul Panther (code names are a must among The Protomen), seamlessly switching from synthesizer to his acoustic guitar, a beat-up and rocked-out looking Fender, to a custom-made blaster Gatling gun arm prosthetic. As their costumes and their stage presence indicate, the band is committed to their roles, and their fans are just as committed to them. At last year’s performance, the lead singer lost his voice; this time around, a fan remembered, and surprised him with a care package just in case it happened again.

With songs as sweeping, epic, and just flat-out fun as the ones on The Protomen’s two albums, it’s easy to understand their fans’ devotion. In a little under 90 minutes, they were able to take their Megaman rock epic and turn Plaza Bowl into the biggest, greatest arcade ever. With fans like theirs, and with energy like theirs, it’s hard to understand why that arcade, with all its blinking lights and painted faces, was so far from being full last Friday night. The Protomen are definitely worth seeking out, and all the folks there from as far away as Idaho and Texas would be sure to agree. Someday our fair city will get the message. Despite the small crowd, the energy and fun of the acts at Plaza Bowl that night all point to one exciting fact: it’s only going to get better, so support your local Protoman while there’s still room on the dancefloor. After the show ended, Raul Panther and the rest of the band saluted the warriors of Richmond for coming out, and spent the rest of the night talking and laughing with fans. As they proved last Friday, The Protomen love Richmond, and hopefully next time they come around, there’ll be more of us there to love them back.

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

Former GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.




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