The Upper Crust
Highline Ballroom (New York City, NY)
Isn’t it strange how sometimes you can completely forget about things you once obsessed over earlier in your life? The idea of an AC/DC-style hard rock band whose members adopted the look and mannerisms of Eighteenth Century fancy lads (complete with powdered wigs and buckled shoes) struck me as pure genius when I first discovered the Upper Crust in 1999 / 2000. Lyrically, the testosterone-fueled songs the Crust played reflected their aristocratic leanings—“Little Lord Fauntleroy,” “Highfalutin’,” “We’re Finished With Finishing School,” etc. It was an incredibly funny idea executed with hilarious perfection. If I were a better guitar player and living in Boston, I would have tried so hard to join them.
I bought one of their CDs and listened to it incessantly, but for some idiotic reason I didn’t hang on to the thing. I must have really needed burrito money that week. Anyway, this CD was apparently the key to keeping the Upper Crust alive and well in my subconscious, for once it exited my home so they exited my brain. This is stupid, really, because it’s not like the Crust have been completely absent from the rock scene in recent years. They’ve been doin’ stuff. In 2004, they were the subject of a documentary entitled Let Them Eat Rock. Two years ago they put out a “best of” disc. Last year, they made a special guest appearance on “Codename: Kids Next Door,” which I can’t believe I missed because I watch Cartoon Network whenever possible and that show is ALWAYS ON. I guess I just haven’t been paying close enough attention.
I sure as hell was paying attention this past Saturday when I was walking down some street in the East Village, searching for a cool spot to get my lunch on. As I approached the corner of an intersection I can’t quite recall, I spotted a small flyer advertising an Upper Crust performance that very night at the Highline Ballroom. The shitty, photocopied image of my four favorite rock fops broke the mental dam that was blocking a powerful river of happy memories from flowing through my gray matter. Suddenly I knew how I was spending my Saturday evening—in the fanciful and rocking court of the Upper Crust.
The flyer said the Crust would be taking the stage at 9 p.m. sharp, and true to form, the Beantown quartet sauntered onto the Highline Ballroom’s stage at exactly nine bells.
“How y’all dew-ing?” lead singer and rhythm guitarist Lord Bendover asked the crowd in a stuffy British accent. His tone suggested a severe contempt for such improper English. I can’t recall which high octane number UC kicked things off with, “Let Them Eat Rock” or “Tell Mother I’m Home.” At any rate, their rock was tight, loud, and full of refined, regal muscle. It could be argued that the Upper Crust possess a sound that’s far too boisterous and ball-busting for a bunch of guys in pantaloons, but that’s what makes the joke so funny. And yes, it’s still very funny after all these years.
The performance was not without incident. At one point, perpetually grumpy bassist Count Basie broke his low E string. This lead to a chuckle-worthy scenario in which Lord Bendover admonished the Count and suggested in a droll tone that his band mate continue using the broken instrument (“I should like to think Count Basie can compensate for his fatal error, don’t you?”). When Basie left the stage to locate “the lad with the extra bass,” the Crust bashed out “Rock n’ Roll Butler” wherein Bendover made a mistake of his own.
“I suppose it would help if I played in the correct key,” the singer observed of his own gaffe. Then, turning to lead guitarist the Duc D’istortion, he remarked, “You could humor me by playing in the wrong key, you know.”
While watching drummer Jackie Kickassis (a great drummer, by the way, who I think is saddled with the lamest name in the band), I wondered if he was operating his kit in the same large buckled shoes the rest of the Upper Crust were wearing. Indeed he was; I observed this when he stepped up during the band introductions and put his foot on the bass drum. I give Jackie credit for playing the drums in shoes most people probably would hate to walk three feet in. While on the subject of cosmetics, the Duc D’istortion’s scraggily indie rocker beard seemed a little out of place. At least he powdered it to match the giant mess of fake white curls that topped his head.
For a little over an hour, the Crust kept the comedy and the crunchy cacophony coming, pleasing / bewildering many members of the adoring audience. It’s not every day a band rolls into town sporting tight britches and old school head-banging numbers with titles like “Come Hither, Fair Youth.” You could tell a few people in the crowd were having their minds utterly blown. They all seemed to enjoy it, though. An audible wave of anger rose up when the Highline Ballroom techs came out to unplug the microphones almost immediately after the Upper Crust left the stage. New York City wanted more fop rock. Unfortunately, to quote Spinal Tap, there would be no encore.
Disappointing, but I can’t really complain. I got to see a band I forgot I even liked all because I couldn’t figure out where I wanted to eat five hours before the show. If that’s not dumb luck, then I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.
Final Grade: Four Little Rickshaw Boys out of four.
Bonus Video: Get down on this fat piece of Crust, the video for their kick ass song “Let Them Eat Rock”: