A Fish Out of Water at the Dan Band at Stage 48

by delarue

It’s an unseasonably gorgeous Thursday night over by the water in Hell’s Kitchen. By 8 PM, the tables at swanky triplex venue Stage 48 are mostly full. There are two distinct, and separate crowds here to see the Dan Band: one young, loud, starstruck and very El Lay, the other older, beefy, New Jersey. Loud rock standards play over the PA. A gaggle of drunken Jersey tiara witches, screaming and whistling, totters on six-inch heels to the second level  The stage crew test the smoke machine: it’s working. By around twenty after eight, a club employee takes the stage and offers a couple of drink tickets as a prize for imitating the character Alan from the movie The Hangover. This is starting to feel more and more like spring break. On the other hand, who can blame the half-dozen sheepish contestants – drinks here are expensive.

The Dan Band take the stage about forty-five minutes late. The bassist kills his first beer before the show starts: he’ll be mostly inaudible throughout the set. The drummer keeps things simple; it becomes obvious that there’s a lot more music on the laptop manipulated by the guitarist. – who turns out to be a solid, eclectic rock player – than is being played by the band. But they’re not who the crowd came to see.

Frontman Dan Finnerty first achieved notoriety for his role as the pottymouth wedding singer in the film Old School, leading to similar roles in the Todd Phillips movies Starsky and Hutch and The Hangover (which explains the pre-show contest). He’s wearing a backwards baseball cap, baggy pants, sneakers, a gas station attendant shirt with “Dan” on the nametag and a blue t-shirt underneath. The hat stays on for the whole show. He’s flanked by a duo of backup singers dressed in identical dorky thick-frame glasses and matching brown suits: the two guys look as if they could be twins but as it turns out they’re not. They’re both good singers, and Finnerty isn’t bad himself. But he’s not there to hit the notes: he’s there to skewer a whole lot of cheeseball pop songs, most of them from the past decade or so.

They open with a recent top 40 medley, doing it completely straight-up, which isn’t funny at all. They sound like an awful Long Island wedding band. Then they launch into an Abba medley and start to have some fun. A lot of this band’s shtick is pretty obvious: the guys singing songs written for women, white men struggling with the ebonics of hip-hop, the stage moves and the gang signs. But they have their American Idol parody down cold: the phony, simpering energy, the ridiculous boy-band choreography, the equally ridiculous props. The music may be corporate putrid, but the esthetic is pure oldschool punk rock. Finnerty’s contempt for the schlocky tunes is surpassed only by his contempt for the audience. His standup shtick is oldschool, Don Rickles doing Vegas, going into the crowd and ragging on random customers. Two girls enjoying a night out are singled out as lesbians; Finnerty hits on women who’re clearly with other guys, steals a dollar bill off someone’s table and uses it as a sweatrag. Later in the set, a drunk girl wearing a hat festooned what appear to be two illuminated, red plastic penises arrives at the edge of the stage and becomes a favorite target.

What Finnerty likes to spoof most is “R&B,” i.e. corporate pop sung by black people or white people imitating a black accent. And he could actually pull it off if he wanted to, it seems. But the joke is that he’s phoning it in – he doesn’t even try to stay on key, pepppering the lyrics with random obscenities. The big faux-sensitive crescendos get a predictable but irresistibly amusing over-the-top treatment. The backup guys’ stage moves are just as over-the-top: are they making fun of top 40 music videos, maybe?

As the show goes on, it becomes clear that Finnerty is phoning in not only the vocals but the standup: by the time he’s been up there a half an hour, he’s pretty much given up on assaulting the audience. Half the time, he’s got a bewildered smirk on his face, as if to say, I can’t believe I’m doing this at all, let alone getting paid a little something for it. And the crowd loves it! They don’t seem to be in on the joke, that they could see the exact same thing for a lot less at a karaoke bar or a show by a high school cover band.

Finnerty brings the performance to a climax with arguably the ultimate cheeseball power ballad, Total Eclipse of the Heart and then a mashup of the theme songs from Flashdance and Fame. He saves his best and most graphically obscene gesture for the end – a water bottle is involved – and gets called back for a couple of encores. On one hand, this band’s basic jokes get old fast, and the music, from the hip-hop to the dance-pop and occasional elevator-music ballad, reminds how nauseatingly cliched corporate pop has become over the past twenty years: after awhile, all the songs literally sound the same, with the same mechanical beat and phony hip-hop bridge. On the other, you have to love a guy who’s been able to make some money satirizing something he detests to this extreme, along with the people who, if they don’t love Finnerty’s source material, are at least familiar with it to the point where they know some of the words. The Dan Band have a monthly residency at Stage 48 if you feel like sharing Finnerty’s contempt. Just don’t sit too close to the stage.